Many people hate Valentine’s Day for its commercialism and general tawdriness. And even those of us who don’t—who might, say, have invested in boxes of conversation hearts, or bedecked their apartment doors with slightly crooked foil hearts from the ninety-nine-cents store—understand that the holiday is kind of repulsive. However unironically the candy heart beats in your breast, however much you enjoy the prospect of couples sharing overpriced prix fixes or the sight of beleaguered husbands clutching bodega roses, it’s hard not to feel depressed under the weight of the sexy doubles entendres and seasonal boxers. Hallmark holiday? That alone I could handle. It’s the treacle plus a thousand leering letterpress puns that really start to break the spirit.
If you’re feeling that fatigue and happen to find yourself in New York, a good antidote is Straus Park at Broadway and 106th Street.
Isidor and Ida Straus married in 1871. When the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912, the couple was returning from a winter sojourn in Europe. Because a number of their first-class fellow travelers survived the disaster, there were numerous accounts of the Strauses’ final moments. Ida refused to take a place in a lifeboat with the other women and children; instead, she insisted that her maid take one, and that she wear her fur coat. Seeing that the couple would not be parted, another traveler tried to offer his spot to Isidor. He, too, refused, as there were still women and children who had not been saved. Ida is reported to have said, “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together.” Whether or not this is so, more than one survivor recalled seeing the couple standing on the deck, arm in arm, before the ship went down.
The story captured the public imagination and has been dramatized in several media (although the Strauses barely rate a cameo in James Cameron’s Titanic). Still, it is surprisingly easy to miss the park, which stands near the site of the Strauses’ home. It’s a modest strip of land south of the Columbia campus, dominated by a memorial fountain that bears these words:
IN MEMORY OF ISIDOR AND IDA STRAUS
WHO WERE LOST AT SEA IN THE TITANTIC DISASTER APRIL 15, 1912
LOVELY AND PLEASANT WERE THEY IN THEIR LIVES AND IN
THEIR DEATH THEY WERE NOT DIVIDED.
II SAMUEL I-23
It’s enough to send you into a ninety-nine-cent store in search of a messed-up foil heart.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.