Ida’s reference to the Titanic‘s near miss with the liner New York while leaving Southampton is poignantly prophetic. On a human level, her comment that the liner’s size might not be without its troubles and her confident proclamation that danger “has now been averted” is, frankly, heartbreaking. You feel it must have been at the forefront of her mind in the late hours of April 14 when she received news the Titanic had struck an iceberg and was going down by the head.
On the orders of Officer Charles Lightoller, Mrs Straus had initially started getting into Lifeboat 8 along with her maid, Ellen Bird, at around 1:00 a.m, just over an hour after the glancing collision. Seeing that her husband wasn’t following, however, she changed her mind. With one foot on the gunwale, she handed Ellen her fur coat, turned back and went to stand behind Isidor. According to eyewitnesses, she explained her rationale by exclaiming: “we have been living together for many years, and where you go, I go.”
The couple sat themselves down in a couple of deckchairs on A Deck. Passing passengers entreated Ida to board a lifeboat, even offering her husband a place. Isidor was having none of it though. Adamant he wouldn’t seek advantage over other men, he remained seated. He wasn’t the only male first class passenger to make such a noble sacrifice. At about 1:30 a.m., the 46-year-old businessman Benjamin Guggenheim appeared on the boat deck. You might remember him from Cameron’s film—”we are dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down as gentlemen. But we would like a brandy!” Indeed, wearing white tie and tails he did relay a message to his steward, saying:
“I think there is grave doubt the men will get off. I am willing to remain and play the man’s game if there are not enough boats for more than the women and children. I won’t die here like a beast. Tell my wife… I played the game out straight and to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”
Without wanting to play down the nobility of their sacrifice, it’s worth remembering that many of Titanic‘s passengers never got the chance. Especially Titanic‘s third class passengers. Kept below deck away from the other passengers because of American immigration laws, the gates were only unlocked at 12:30 (and then so they could lose themselves in the vast labyrinth of Titanic‘s internal corridors). In the aftermath, much noise was made about the heroic acts of the Strauses, Mr Guggenheim and, in the water, the “unsinkable” Molly Brown. One feels, however, this was at least in part to distract from this ugly truth (as well as other unpopular acts of self-preservation that of the White Star Line’s managing director J. Bruce Ismay).