A family note from Fred W. Gretsch . . .
The Titanic has been back in the news lately, owing to the 100th anniversary of its ill-fated voyage on April 15. The stories arising from the tragic sinking of the legendary liner have captured the imagination of millions of people. Interestingly, the Gretsch Family has a direct connection to at least one of those stories.
My younger sister, Gretchen Gertrude Gretsch, is the namesake of that connection. She’s also our “family historian,” and she relates this particular story as follows:
As many fans of the Titanic story (or even just of the James Cameron blockbuster movie), one of the wealthy first-class passengers aboard the Titanic was John Jacob Astor IV, whom the New York Times referred to after his death as the man who “had put up and owned more hotels and skyscrapers than any other New Yorker.” Astor was traveling with his much younger wife, who, although they had only recently been married, was pregnant at the time of the voyage.
John Jacob Astor IV went down with the Titanic. His pregnant wife boarded a lifeboat and was rescued. When the child she carried was born, he was named John Jacob Astor V. And, twenty-nine years later, he would become the husband of Gertrude Gretsch, the cousin of my father William “Bill” Gretsch.
Gertrude Gretsch Astor was born in 1923 to Walter and Gertrude Gretsch—both of whom were in their early 40s. Gertrude’s father Walter and his older brother, Fred Gretsch Sr.(my grandfather), ran their late father’s musical instrument company for almost twenty years together after the business was incorporated around 1903. Fred Gretsch Sr. was the president of the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company. As the younger brother, Walter had a less noble title and a smaller role in the business. So in 1923 he started his own business—Gretsch & Brenner—in partnership with a man who had once worked for the Gretsch Company.
Gertrude married John Jacob Astor V in 1943. Her father Walter had died the previous a year, so she asked her uncle Fred Gretsch Sr.—whom she barely knew—to walk her down the aisle. The family story goes that Gertrude was actually a lot closer to her uncle Louie Gretsch. Gertrude had spent a lot of time with Louie’s daughter Marion as a child, and Gertrude wanted to ask her Uncle Louie to walk her down the aisle. But Gertrude’s mother thought it would look better in the newspapers to have Fred Gretsch Sr. (who was then president of the Lincoln Savings Bank as well as of the Fred. Gretsch Manufacturing Co.) walk her daughter down the aisle. Gertrude’s mother insisted, Gertrude reluctantly agreed, and Fred Gretsch Sr. walked the soon-to-be Mrs. John Jacob Astor V down the aisle.
More information about the Gretsch family, particularly the ladies of Gretsch, can be found here.