“Titanic” has always been more than just your run-of-the-mill disaster films. Beyond the frustration of watching people drown because there simply weren’t enough lifeboats, at its heart, the movie is about love.
One of the scenes that pulls on the heartstrings the most is that of an elderly couple holding each other in bed while the frigid water rushes below them. They know what’s coming, and realize it’s only a matter of time before the water rises and seals their fate.
But they had one thing many people aboard the ill-fated ship didn’t have—each other. And it turns out that, unlike the beloved Jack and Rose, this particular couple was actually inspired by a real life husband and wife who died on the Titanic: Isidor and Ida Straus.
Before their ill-fated trip on the Titanic—a return trip to America from Germany—the couple owned R.H. Macy & Co. (yes, that Macy’s) and were quite wealthy. According to the traveling Titanic artifact exhibit, the Strauses almost always traveled together and were rarely apart. On the night the Titanic sank, Isidor took Ida to Lifeboat 8 to say goodbye, refusing special treatment to board the lifeboat, which was loading women and children at the time. Ida, however, would not get on the boat, reportedly saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”
According to witness accounts, other first-class passengers tried to convince Ida to board the lifeboat, but she would not. Instead, she sent her newly employed maid in her place, wrapping her in a fur to keep her warm. While some accounts do say the couple went back to their cabin before their death, most say they were last seen together on the ship’s boat deck.
“Isidor wrapped his arms around her,” the couple’s great-grandson, Straus family historian and professor Paul Kurzman, told Country Living. “Then, a great wave came over the port side of the ship and swept them both into the sea. That was the last time they were seen alive.”
Isidor’s body was recovered, but a funeral service was delayed in hopes that Ida’s body would also be found so they could be buried together. Her body was never found. Days later, more than 6,000 people gathered at Carnegie Hall in New York City for a memorial service in the Strauses’ honor.
The story is, of course, just one of many final stories from the Titanic, but due to the couple being so well-known, it was documented in the news at the time. While exact details of their last night together vary a bit among different sources, the story of their love was enough for director James Cameron to include the couple in his 1997 film.
They were originally featured in a more detailed scene, but it didn’t make the final cut. You can watch it below:
“James told me that he knew it wasn’t accurate, but he took some license as a director,” Kurzman said. “I said, ‘As long as you know it’s not accurate.’ The truth is they died standing on the bridge on the deck of the ship holding each other.”
Today, a New York City park is named after the couple, and a sculpture dedicated in 1915 still stands in remembrance. Public funds of $20,000 were raised to commission the monument.
You’ll also find a plaque dedicated to the couple inside the New York City Macy’s location, which continues to be a tourist stop, with people sharing photos of the memorial on social media.
“This is a love story,” Kurzman said, “and I hope that in a time when this world needs a little more love, a little more inspiration, the lasting story of Ida and Isidor Straus will give people hope.”