On April 15, the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, there are so many areas that could be addressed in regard to the tragedy’s effect on New York City. I have decided to concentrate on the most famous New Yorker to perish on the ship, John Jacob Astor IV.
He was the great grandson of John Jacob Astor who was America’s first multi-millionaire. Along with his cousin, William Waldorf Astor he built the Waldorf Astoria Hotel at the present site of the Empire State building. He was an inventor, a science fiction novelist and a soldier in the Spanish American war.
Primarily though, he was an Astor and like those Astors before him he made money in real estate. John Jacob I had started buying up chunks of Manhattan even before the Commissioners Plan of 1911 addressed the massive expected sprawl of the island. His
When John Jacob IV divorced his wife and then married a woman 30 years his junior it caused quite a stir in New York society. This was 1909 and those of wealth and high social standing just did not do such things. So JJIV and his 18 year old bride left for Europe. When she became pregnant, the couple wanted the child born on American soil. They decided to return to the States on the Royal Mail Steamship Titanic. For what it is worth, Astor was the wealthiest person on the ship.
After the ship hit an iceberg Astor helped people board the lifeboats. His pregnant wife boarded lifeboat #4 and he stayed back being told that men could not enter the boats until all women and children were loaded. It was the last he and his wife saw of each other. She would survive and give birth to a son later that year.
Astor though would become victim #124. He was positively identified by the initials sewn inside his lapel and by an engraved pocket watch. In the 1997 film about the sinking it is implied that he died as the large ballroom staircase collapsed, but the most common belief is that he simply went down with the ship. He is buried in Old Trinity Church.
The Titanic sinking took the lives of over 1,500 people from all classes and walks of life. Not even the wealthiest man on board was immune.