Below is Part 2 of Scouting NY’s Titanic Guide To New York City. Click here for part 1!
As we head uptown to continue the next leg of our tour, be sure to choose a route that takes you past Macy’s in honor of its former owner, Isidor Strauss, who died on the Titanic with his wife Ida.
Shortly after the Civil War, Isidor Strauss and his brother Nathaniel set up a crockery and glassware business at Macy’s. By 1896, the brothers owned the entire company.
For years, I remember seeing a plaque in the Macy’s lobby honoring their deaths, but when I went back to take a picture recently, it was gone. Apparently, it was removed in 2005 when the lobby was remodeled and given to the Straus family – which is frankly pretty insulting. There really isn’t enough room for the memorial along with another wall of those hideous Donald Trump-brand shirts?
The memorial read “Their lives were beautiful and the deaths glorious” – and I’m not sure there’s a better way to put it.
As the ship was sinking, a life boat officer said he’d allow Isidor and his wife on. However, Isidor refused, as there were still women and children aboard the ship. Though he urged Ida to go without him, she refused, reportedly saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”
While the Macy’s memorial might be gone, the Straus’ have a pretty fantastic park and memorial at 106th Street and Broadway, located just a block from their former residence:
A bed of flowers (formerly a reflecting pool) leads up to a “pensive” statue (not meant to be Ida), installed in 1913:
Below, a photograph of the memorial taken at an unspecified date (note the reflecting pool):
A passage on the bench behind the statue features a quote from Second Samuels 23: “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives and in their death they were not parted.”
In 1995, Strauss Park was renovated and expanded, with a new plaque…
…and, er, it looks like the engraver couldn’t decide which date the Titanic sank on:
The Straus’ home was located at 106th & Broadway in what was once a rural neighborhood known as Bloomingdale. Few pictures exist of the property, which was described in the NY Times as “an attractive, old-fashioned wooden structure set well back…with ample lawns and large trees,” the last of its sort in an area quickly becoming congested with apartment buildings. Also on the property: a baseball field, a chicken coop, an apple orchard, pear trees, a stable, and a barn with cows and goats.
Sadly, after the Straus’s deaths, the property was sold to developers, who demolished it and built the 16 story Cleburne Building on the site:
From here, it makes sense to take a quick detour up to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to visit the Straus family mausoleum:
The vault is centered around an almost art-deco ship manned by oars, clearly symbolic of the Titanic disaster (from the powerful design, perhaps implying that the Straus family continues on, afloat and strong?).
Still in use by the Straus family to this day, Ira is buried in the center vault (his wife’s remains were never found, though her name accompanies his above the door).
Lining the fence are a number of swastikas which, prior to World War II, were a popular symbol of luck and good fortune.
And could there be a cooler mausoleum key than one shaped in an “S” for Straus?
Also in Woodlawn Cemetery is the grave of the one of the Titanic’s true heroes, Archibald Gracie IV.
A direct descendant of Archibald Gracie (responsible for Gracie Mansion), Archibald IV, a writer and historian, was returning home to his family in the US after a vacation abroad.
As the ship began sinking, Gracie worked tirelessly to help second officer Charles Lightoller fill the remaining lifeboats with women and children, then assisted in freeing the four collapsible boats lashed to the ship. Gracie actually went down with the Titanic, but managed to grab hold of the same overturned lifeboat as wireless operator Jack Phillips (mentioned in the previous post), and survived until rescue boats came the following morning.
Upon returning to the United States, Gracie immediately began writing a first hand account of his experience, though sadly died eight months later. “Hero of the S.S. Titanic” is written at the top of his grave.
In addition to several other Titanic-related graves at Woodlawn, there’s also a memorial dedicated by one Anna Bliss to the Titanic’s victims…though I’m not sure Bliss had any actual connection to the Titanic. Perhaps she was just being nice? Bliss herself is buried in the rear of the monument.
Returning to Morningside Heights, our next stop is at the gargauntuan, yet still unfinished, St. John the Divine, at 112th Street & Amsterdam:
As you walk down the center aisle, stop at the sixth stained glass window on your left…
This window was given in the memory of John Jacob Astor IV, the richest passenger aboard the Titanic and one of its victims:
Thematically, the window depicts important events from American history…
…and if you look in the bottom right hand corner, you’ll see “SINKING OF THE TITANIC” as the final moment.
Born into one of the wealthiest families in the United States, Astor dabbled in a number of disciplines and was known as a businessmen, real estate investor, hotelier (The Waldorf-Astoria), inventor (a bicycle brake and a turbine engine, among others), and writer.
Astor shocked the world by not only divorcing his first wife of 18 years, but remarrying 18-year-old Madeleine Force (pictured above) at the ripe age of 47. With Madeleine pregnant at the time, the two were returning home via the Titanic so that their first child would be born in the United States. Below, the Astor mansion at East 65th Street and Fifth Avenue…
…which was torn down in 1926 for the construction of Temple Emanu-El, still on the site today:
In fact, Astor is the only Titanic victim to be buried in Manhattan, at the Old Trinity Cemetery at 153rd Street & Broadway (western division) (note: I saw at least one Titanic walking tour place Astor’s grave at Trinity Cemetery in lower Manhattan. This is incorrect!!).
Buried in the family plot, the center monument is for Astor IV, though strangely does not feature any identifying names or dates.
After the Titanic collided with the iceberg, Astor convinced his wife that everything would be OK, and the two spent some time on the mechanical horse and camel in the gym.
Later, as the damage became more apparent and passengers began boarding life boats, Astor helped his wife, her maid, and her nurse into one, casually asking if he might join them due to his wife’s fragile state. His request was denied, and he was last seen smoking with mystery writer Jacques Futrelle on the starboard bridge.
On his monument, a so-called fouled anchor is the one reference to his death at sea.
Astor’s body was found with significant head trauma, and it is believed he may have been hit by one of the ship’s falling smokestacks. Wife Madeleine survived, and is supposed buried “nearby,” though the Trinity Cemetery office had no idea where. Below, her life jacket:
…where, hidden behind a tree, is a memorial to one W. T. Stead.
One of the most famous passengers aboard the Titanic, William Thomas Stead was a powerful turn-of-the-century English journalist whose controversial “New Journalism” opened the doors for today’s tabloid press.
As the Titanic began sinking, Stead assisted several women and children into lifeboats, and was last seen in the First Class Smoking Room reading a book in a leather armchair. This memorial is actually a 1920 copy of the original 1913 work found along London’s Embankment promenade on the Thames.
Our final stop takes us all the way to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where a number of Titanic passengers are buried.
Probably the most well known is Robert Douglas Spedden, just six years old when he boarded the Titanic. There’s a good chance you’ve seen him in the famous picture of a boy spinning a top on the Titanic’s deck:
Spedden was rescued aboard Lifeboat 3 while holding onto his toy bear, which inspired his mother to later write an illustrated story of their trip through Europe told from the doll’s perspective (Spedden is pictured below with his bear):
Sadly, Spedden died just three years later in Maine at nine years old, a victim in one of the state’s first automobile accidents. Chasing a tennis ball into the street, he was struck by a passing car (note: despite dozens of Titanic walking tours stating otherwise, Spedden’s grave does not say “Titanic Survivor” on it).
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Titanic tour of New York City! I’ve put together a helpful map below:
View The Titanic Guide To New York City, from Scouting NY in a larger map
And of course, be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anything!
PS: One question that’s been bugging me ever since I saw Titanic the day after Christmas in 1997:
At the end of Cameron’s Titanic, we see Rose toss her jewel into the ocean, fall asleep in her room, and presumably die, as the final scene of the movie is her reuniting with Leonardo DiCaprio on the Titanic in what could be described as Heaven.
Except, here’s what bothers me: after returning to America, we know she got married, had children and later grandchildren (one of whom is pictured in the movie).
So why isn’t the first person she meets in Heaven her husband??? I mean, I get why this doesn’t make sense for tear-jerking/storytelling reasons, but wouldn’t you be pissed if you were up in Heaven, your spouse dies, you expect him or her to come running to you, so happy to be together for all eternity…
And instead, they jump into the arms of someone they had a fling with on a cruise ship for a couple of days?
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