Straus Park

Commemorating A Day Of Titanic Proportions: Park Monuments Honor Tragic Sinking A Century Ago

Thursday, March 29, 2012
No. 16

As the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking on April 15, 1912 approaches and Titanic-mania reaches a fever pitch, we would like to draw attention to park sites across the city that memorialize the tragedy. While many may be busy strapping on their 3D glasses for the James Cameron re-release, New Yorkers can also commemorate the day with some time out in the sunshine, in the city that received the survivors three days after the liner was famously lost.

The Straus Memorial at Broadway and 106th Street honors the loss of Isidor and Ida Straus, prominent citizens who died aboard the doomed vessel. Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1845, Isidor immigrated to America in 1854, first settling in Georgia. After the Civil War, he and his brother prospered as merchants and assumed ownership of R. H. Macy & Co., which by 1902 was the world’s largest department store, Macy’s at Herald Square. They also became partners in Abraham & Straus in 1893. Isidor married Ida Blun in 1871 and raised six children. Ida joined her husband as a leading philanthropist dedicated to health, education and other public services.

The Strauses were among the many prominent citizens aboard the Titanic for its maiden voyage, and when the ship went down, Ida declined a spot in the lifeboats, choosing instead to remain with her husband. At the time of his death Isidor chaired the committee to erect the Firemen’s Memorial. The Board of Aldermen named this park in 1912 after the Strauses, who had lived in a frame house at 2747 Broadway near 105th Street, and public subscriptions of $20,000 were raised to commission this monument. Designed by Everts Tracy, the monument originally consisted of a granite curved exedra, reflecting pool and central bronze reclining female figure of Memory sculpted by Augustus Lukeman, and was dedicated three years to the day after the Titanic sank. A biblical passage inscribed on the monument alludes to the Strauses’ undying love: “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives…And in their death they were not divided.”

In 1997, the city expanded and renovated the park and restored the monument, and the reflecting pool was modified into a floral bed. Straus family descendants established an endowment for the perpetual care of the monument. The Friends of Straus Park and the West 106th Street Block Association have been active in preserving and programming this park, and community celebrations on the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking have perpetuated veneration of the memorial. This year’s centennial will be marked by an outdoor lecture at the park on April 15 at 2:00 p.m. organized by Landmark West!, a local preservation organization.

Set within the perimeter wall of Central Park, north of Engineers’ Gate at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue, is the William T. Stead Memorial. Stead was a British journalist who perished aboard the Titanic and was said to have distinguished himself by bravely helping others at the expense of his own life while the great ship sank into the depths of the North Atlantic. Dating to 1920, this memorial is a replica of a work by British sculptor George James Frampton (1860–1928) erected in 1913 at London’s Thames River Embankment, and its limestone setting here was designed by the noted architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings. Two allegorical figures flank the inscription and relief portrait of Stead, a knight representing Fortitude and an angel figure representing Sympathy. The knight was stolen in the 1930s and resculpted in 1936. In 1996, the Central Park Conservancy restored the monument and replaced the missing features.

In 2010, Parks completed a redesign and renovation of a small park at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, named Titanic Memorial Park for a lighthouse at its center that commemorates the tragedy. In 1913, one year to the day of the Titanic’s sinking, the lighthouse—fitted with a time mechanism that at noon each day dropped down a pole signaling ships in the harbor—was installed on top of the Seamen’s Church Institute at South Street and Coenties Slip. The church was demolished in 1967, and the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum. In 1976, it was put on public display at its current location at Pearl and Fulton Streets. The recent $1.2 million renovation of the park, financed with funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, includes a central seating area and improved planting, as well as a distinctive bluestone wave pattern alluding to the local maritime history, and a granite band marking the approximate location of the original shoreline.

Commissioned by popular subscription in 1915, and once located near the former barge office, the Wireless Operators Memorial in Battery Park honors working wireless operators lost at sea. First on the inscribed honor roll was Jack Phillips, the radio operator aboard the R.M.S. Titanic the day of its sinking. The monument is currently in storage pending its imminent restoration and relocation; it is slated to be reinstalled by early 2014 within a newly created “Heroes Walk” of monuments along the park’s perimeter. Designed by Hewitt and Bottomley, the monument consists of an upright granite cenotaph decorated with a carved swag of seashells and foliage and inscribed with the names of the deceased, as well as a granite display fountain and two benches.

Of this poignant monument, author Willa Cather remarked, “This monument is one of the most attractive and most friendly commemorative works in New York…these men died in storm and terror, but their names are brought together here and abide in a pleasant place with cheerful companionship.”

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