John Jacob Astor was one of the wealthiest men in the world. His business interests extended from real estate to investments, while he was also a writer and inventor. In November 1910 the New York Times reported that John Jacob Astor and his son Vincent were travelling to Europe, Vincent to see his mother and his father on to Paris. It was reported that on the return journey they would both visit the Belfast shipyard of Harland & Wolff, where the Olympic and Titanic were under construction.
John Jacob Astor was travelling as a first-class passenger aboard the Titanic, with his young pregnant wife, Madeleine, his valet and her maid and nurse. They boarded the Titanic when she called at Cherbourg on the evening of 10 April 1912. During the sinking John Jacob Astor escorted his young wife to lifeboat number 4, accompanied by her maid and nurse.
First-class passenger and survivor Hilda Slater described how on the Boat Deck she saw John Jacob Astor helping his wife Madeline into a lifeboat. "I saw Col. John Jacob Astor hand his young wife into a boat tenderly and then ask an officer whether he might go. When permission was refused he stepped back and coolly took out his cigarette case. 'Good bye, dearie' he called gaily, as he lighted a cigarette and leaned over the rail. 'I'll join you later.'".
Refused permission to join his young wife by Second Officer Charles Lightoller. he stepped aside. John Jacob Astor and his valet Victor Robbins did not survive the sinking. On 22 April, John Jacob Astor's body was recovered from the sea by the crew of the cable-ship Mackay-Bennett. The Mackay-Bennett, chartered by the White Star Line, had set out from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, to retrieve bodies of the victims of the sinking. Only days earlier, on learning of this the loss of his father, Vincent Astor reportedly planned to blast the wreck of the Titanic with explosives until the body of his father floated to the surface.
John Jacob Astor's body was returned to New York on 1 May 1912. A funeral was held on 4 May at the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York. Rhinebeck was where John Jacob Astor was born, at his father's 2,800 acre Ferncliff estate. Following the funeral, his body and mourners travelled aboard a special train to Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan where his body was interred.
The grave is in the form of a column symbolising life cut short, standing atop an octagonal base. The base is formed by the chamfered top of the grave's plinth. The column terminates in a Corinthian order capital, decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.
It has a band of ribbon-tied swags of flowers at its midpoint, while below is an anchor wound with a piece of rope, symbolising hope. Atop the capital is a highly decorative, ornamental celtic cross, symbolising eternal life. The grave stands on a square, stepped base.
The grave of John Jacob Astor stands in Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum in Manhattan, alongside a number of graves and vaults to members of the Astor family.