The ice wall was warmer than the ocean was in the early hours of April 15, 1912 when the Titanic sank. The waters of the North Atlantic were below freezing,, registering close to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. As my family, along with other hushed visitors, put our hands on the 9-foot wall of ice, the fate of 1,500 men, women and children came into a horrible, tangible, reality. Hypothermia, not drowning, ended so many lives. The wall is a memorable part of the Titanic Artifact Exhibition in Atlanta for the centennial anniversary at Atlantic Station of the maiden and last voyage of the “ship of dreams.” It is an incredible experience.
I found a coupon online to save us a little money, and the three of us entered the world of strict class distinctions, the history of immigration, and amazing stories. Renting the audio guides for the three of us was a great investment. Children enter different numbers in the audio guide than the adults. I tried both and learned more. It is a great way to keep a nine-year-old from zipping through the rooms. Our daughter had her own audio device to listen to for whatever she was interested in. This gave us more time to read and take in all of the exhibits.
It helped that as a family we had watched some old Titanic movies and a lot of documentaries on Georgia Public Broadcasting prior to our trip, and also afterwards. Amazingly, our daughter enjoyed the documentaries. I guess that’s what happens when your mother and father are history buffs – it rubs off.
Slowly passing through the rooms, the stories of courage, cowardice, and the human experience touched me the most. And then I saw them. As we exited into the gift shop there was a large photograph of Isador and Ida Straus. Isador, at one time as a child, lived next door to Upson County in Talbotton, with his family. Isador and Ida’s story is among the most touching of the Titanic stories.
First, a little background. Isador’s father and mother, Lazur and Sarah Straus, lived in a small cottage in Talbotton. In 1854 the Straus family immigrated from Otterberg, part of a German state to Talbotton, Georgia. Lazarus ran a peddling wagon through the county and later owned a department store on the square. The family eventually moved to New York City, where they established a grocery and glassware business that became incredibly successful. L. Straus & Sons grew until the family eventually directed the R. H. Macy & Company, “Macys.” This is where the family’s wealth and influence began. The Straus’ received several presidential appointments. They were a well-respected family with a long record of philanthropy.
As an older couple, Isador, 67, and his wife Ida, 63, boarded the RMS Titanic. They were lifelong soulmates. When on April 14, 1912, the ship hit an iceberg; Ida would not leave Isidor’s side. She stepped out from the safety of the lifeboat, telling her beloved husband, “We have been together for many years. Where you go, I go.” The officer filling up the boat told Isidor that he could get into the boat with his wife, but he refused and instead, sent his wife’s maid, Ellen Bird, into the safety of the boat. Ida took off her fur coat and wrapped it around her maid. Isidor, once again, entreated his wife to get into the half-empty lifeboat; she refused to board saying, “We lived together, so we shall die together.” And so they did. Their maid watched her employers, who saved her life, as they stood hand-in-hand on the deck as the ill-fated liner plunged into the icy depths of the Atlantic.
In the 1997 film Titanic, they are briefly depicted comforting each other as their stateroom floods with water.
The photographs, like that of Isidor and Ida, the personal collections, the letters that never reached their destinations, all a part of the exhibition, take an event that happened a century ago and bind us together in a common human experience of love and loss.
As for Isidor and Ida, their funeral drew some 6,000 mourners at Carnegie Hall.
A monument to them still stands in Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx, its inscription reads: “Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it.”