The tragic real life story behind the elderly couple who died holding one another in Titanic.

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If you’ve ever watched Titanic – especially if you’ve watched it obsessively, over and over – you’ll remember the couple. Not Rose and Jack, but the elderly couple, cuddling each other in bed.

As the water comes rushing into their cabin, the husband squeezes his distressed wife’s hand and kisses her. They know they’re going to die together. “Nearer My God To Thee” is playing on the violin. It’s heartbreaking.

Well, that couple is based on a real couple, Isidor and Ida Straus.

Isidor and Ida, who had seven children, had been married for more than 40 years. They were devoted to each other. When they were apart, they would write to each other every day.

Isidor was co-owner of the famous Macy’s department store, along with his brother Nathan. He had also been a congressman.

The Strauses were taking the Titanic home to New York in 1912, after spending the winter in the south of France, for the sake of Ida’s health. They’d planned to take the Olympic home, but it was delayed due to a coal strike, so they switched ships. They had their servants, John Farthing and Ellen Bird, travelling in first class with them.

Being among the richest passengers on board the Titanic, they had a luxurious suite. Director James Cameron used their suite as a model for Rose’s rooms.

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After the Titanic hit an iceberg and it became clear the ship was going to sink, people started filling lifeboats. Being a woman and a first-class passenger, Ida was quickly offered a seat. But she refused to get in without her husband. Isidor’s friend, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, offered to get them a place on a lifeboat together, but Isidor didn’t want special treatment.

“I will not go before the other men,” he told Colonel Gracie.

Ida ignored everyone who tried to persuade her to get in.

“We have been living together for many years,” she said to her husband and anyone else who was listening. “Wherever you go, I go.”

Image: Wikipedia.

Ida insisted that her maid, Ellen Bird, who she’d only just hired in England, take a seat on the lifeboat. She handed Ellen her fur, telling her that she wouldn’t be needing it.

Ellen survived, got married, and lived in the US for the rest of her life, finally dying in 1949.

Some say Ida and Isidor were last seen sitting in deckchairs on the Titanic. Others say they were last seen standing on the deck, arm in arm. Either way, they died when the ship sank.

Isidor’s body was later found and taken to New York. His funeral was attended by 6000 people. Ida’s body was never found, so her family filled an urn with seawater from the place where the Titanic went down, and put it in the mausoleum near Isidor’s body.

Isidor’s “sorrowing employees” at Macy’s contributed money for a plaque to the couple. It read: “Their lives were beautiful and their deaths glorious.”

The story of Ida and Isidor made newspaper headlines at the time: “A sublime sacrifice,” in The Times, and “Mrs Straus refused to quit husband”, in The World. Their story made it into a song, “The Titanic’s Disaster”. A memorial was built to the couple in a park near their home, and a New York school was named after them.

They feature in the 1953 film Titanic, the 1958 film A Night To Remember and in the musical Titanic.

James Cameron shot a scene with Ida refusing to get into a lifeboat without Isidor, but that scene ended up being cut from the movie. All that was left was the poignant, wordless shot of them in bed together.

Ida and Isidor’s great-grandson Paul Kurzman was interviewed by the New York Post on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. He said the intimacy between his great-grandparents was “truly exceptional”.

“I often asked my grandmother, ‘Would you make the decision that your mother and father made?’” he said. “She said, ‘Paul, I’m not sure. But I’m not surprised it was the decision of my parents.’”

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