Manitowoc Native Sails on Titanic

Emil Brandeis, undated

Emil Brandeis, undated

"We have struck iceberg. . .sinking fast. . .come to our assistance." Those words traveled across the airwaves late in the cold night of April 14, 1912 as the RMS Titanic, the largest passenger steamship in the world, was disappearing fast into the Atlantic Ocean.  The “ship of dreams”, as it was often called, left England for New York City four days earlier, with over 2,000 passengers aboard, including Manitowoc native Emil Brandeis.

Born in the city of Manitowoc on March 15, 1864, Emil attended local schools until the age of 12.  The Brandeis family owned the Jonas L. Brandeis General Store, located on North 8th and York Street in Manitowoc, providing general merchandise to early Manitowoc residents.  The family lived above the store. 

In 1881, the Brandeis family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Emil became very successful in the entertainment industry and opened the Brandeis Opera House.  He was one of the most prominent men in the growing city. 

As an adult, Emil made yearly trips to Europe to visit his sister and niece.  During his trip in 1912 Emil was not supposed to return to the United States until May, but he decided to come home two weeks earlier – on the Titanic.  

He boarded the ship in Cherbourg, France on April 10 with a first class ticket in hand, for a B Deck suite.  While on the ship, Emil could often be found with two old friends – Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Harris.  The Harris’ were prominent figures in the entertainment industry as well, owning three theaters in New York City.

Shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912 Titanic hit an iceberg.  The ship sank two hours and forty minutes later, on April 15.  When Emil’s sister-in-law came to New York searching for him after the sinking of the Titanic she met Mrs. Harris and sent this message back home: Emil and Mr. and Mrs. Harris enjoyed hearty dinner together Sunday night, Emil proudly telling them of his niece and nephew, Ruth and Irving Stone, promising Mr. and Mrs. Harris they should meet them in New York.  The men all stood together on deck as the women were lowered in lifeboats.  When Mrs. Harris was ten minutes out at sea she saw the steamer sink with all those fine men aboard.  They remained without fear.

Emil Brandeis and Mr. Harris went down with the Titanic.  The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board, making it one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. 

Many of us have seen the Hollywood depiction of the luxurious ship and heard accounts of its maiden voyage but the true stories of the Titanic come through the touching tales of real people who perished and survived this tragic event in our history.  As April 15 crosses our calendars, may we all remember Emil Brandeis, a local man who embarked on a trip of a lifetime, and the more than 2,000 other passengers whose stories remain a part of history.