A half-century before Isidor Straus, who grew up in the tiny Georgia town of Talbotton, died on the Titanic, the future Macy’s magnate tried to join the Confederate army. Turned down because he was only 16, he joined a blockade-running company instead.
His family had emigrated from Germany in 1854, then moved years later from Talbotton to Columbus, 25 miles away. There he met Amanda Blun Rothschild, sister of his future wife, Ida, who lived in New York. It was the genesis of a long love story.
After the war, Straus returned to Columbus. It had been burned by Union troops, so he moved to New York, where he met and married Ida Blun in 1871 as he and his brother parlayed a china and glassware business into eventual co-ownership of the famous department store.
Isidor, 67, and Ida Straus, 63, were returning from an extended overseas trip when they booked first-class passage on the maiden voyage of the giant new luxury liner, buying a ticket that would cost almost $25,000 at today’s prices. They set sail from the British port of Southampton on April 10, 1912.
Four days later, after stops in Cherbourg, France, and Cobh, Ireland, the supposedly unsinkable ship encountered the fateful iceberg off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks. At 2:20 a.m. on April 15 — a century ago today — it disappeared into the 12,000-foot depths.
The Strauses were immortalized through eyewitness reports of how they died. Isidor Straus, though a prominent philanthropist, former congressman and man of great power, declined a seat in a lifeboat, holding to the rules of the sea that called for women and children to be rescued first. His wife, with whom he had raised six children, refused to be separated from her husband.
“As we have lived, so will we die together,” eyewitnesses reported her saying. “Isidor, my place is with you.”