April 15, 2008

April 15 | John Jacob Astor IV

July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912: Age 47

John Jacob Astor IV was born into one of the richest families in America, his great-grandfather being the first John Jacob Astor who made a fortune in furs and real estate. Once you've got that much money it's hard not to make more, and Astor himself made additional fortuntes in real estate. He also wrote science fiction (including a story set in 2000 about life on Saturn and Jupiter) and invented things (like a bicycle brake and a turbine engine).

He divorced his wife in 1909 after she had an affair, a scandal in itself. Society was further shocked and titillated when he announced, two years later, his married to a woman who, at 18, was two years younger than his own son. In order to wait out the maelstrom of gossip, Mr. and the new Mrs. Astor took an extended tour to Europe and Egypt. During this extended trip, Mrs. Astor became pregnant, and the couple made arrangements to return to America so that the child could be born there. They booked first-class passage on the RMS Titanic.

When the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking, Astor did not believe there was any serious danger, but helped his wife into a lifeboat as a precautionary measure. He gave his own place in the lifeboat to stranger, a woman, saying, “The ladies have to go first.” When his pregnant wife tried to get out too, he said, “Get in the lifeboat, to please me.” He lit a cigarette and said, “Good-bye dearie. I’ll see you later.” He stood back, lit a cigarette, and tossed his gloves to his wife. She survived; he, famously, did not.

When he body was recovered it was covered in soot and blood, leading to speculation that he was killed by the funnel when it collapsed as the ship went down. He was identified by his initials, sewn into his jacket. He was carrying $2,500 in American cash plus a further £225 in British currency, as well as his gold pocket watch. His son, Vincent, wore the watch for the rest of his life.

Source: Wikipedia; Forbes, Malcolm, They Went That-a-Way, Simon and Shuster, New York, 1988.

No comments: