‘Round the hood–Macy’s, The Titanic, and our park

With all the spring flowers abounding, stroll through Strauss Park, a tiny triangle bordered by West End Avenue, Broadway, 106th and 107th streets, and for a few moments reflect on the transience of life and fortune. Strauss Park is a memorial to the owners of Macy’s, Isidor and Ida Strauss, who died together in the Titanic disaster, 1912. Isa refused to leave her husband on the deck of the sinking ship; Isidor was then, too, offered a seat in a lifeboat, but refused to take it in advance of the other men. Ida gave her seat to her maid, along with her fur coat, telling the girl, “I won’t need this any more”.

Isidor was a Jewish German immigrant who arrived in the US in 1854 as a young boy. Having spent most of the Civil War in Europe, trying to sell cotton to finance the Confederacy, he returned to New York as a young man after the war. He and his brother, Nathan, persuaded R. H. Macy to allow them a crockery concession in his store’s basement. The brothers eventually bought out the entire business by 1888, and then opened the world’s largest department store, Macy’s at Herald Square, in 1902.

Isidor and Ida lived just down the street from the park, in a frame house on Broadway near 105th, where they had seven children. Their eldest, Jesse, was the US Ambassador to France during the tense years of 1933-1936, a period of economic depression and the growing influence of Hitler.

Isidor and Ida, and their decision to remain together in death as they had in life, is portrayed in three films: The Titanic (1953), A Night to Remember (1958), and the more recent Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio (1997).

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