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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Roachdale man and his legacy meet demise aboard Titanic

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The family marker in Bloomington's Rose Hill Cemetery is not John Bertram Crafton's final resting place. His body was never recovered from the icy waters of the North Atlantic after the April 1912 sinking of the Titanic.
Home may be where the heart is. A man's home may be his castle. And home may truly be sweet ...

We've all heard such sayings forever, and we continue to hold them near and dear to our hearts as absolute truisms.

Even fictional characters have longed for home -- from Dorothy Gale of Kansas to E.T. of extraterrestrial fame. Going home, after all, is the goal of our national pastime, baseball.

So is it any wonder that the all-too-magnetic lure of home can coerce a man into a rash change of heart?

It was that unmistakable pull of home, tugging on the heart of one homesick Hoosier 100 years ago this week, seducing him into a fateful decision that would end his life and give us all something to talk about even a full century later.

That homesick Hoosier -- and unfortunate passenger on the Titanic -- was 59-year-old John Bertram Crafton, a Putnam County resident who had moved to Roachdale in 1911 after a successful career in the stone quarry business that had earned him the nickname "The Stone King."

After selling the prosperous Crafton Quarry Co. and its stone fields in the Smithville area of Monroe County, Crafton moved to Roachdale to pursue interests in the lumber industry.

Winding down after a lifetime of hard work, Crafton felt he had his business affairs in order enough in early 1912 to "take a little recreation," as he told Bloomington friends. He decided to visit the spas of Europe in hopes the hot springs might help ease the effects of his arthritis and rheumatism.

Ironically, just a week before sailing for Europe aboard the Cincinnati, Crafton had purchased a rose granite family monument and the cemetery plats surrounding it in Bloomington's Rose Hill Cemetery. Today it bears the inscription: "J.B. Crafton -- Lost on the Titanic."

While John Bertram Crafton is apparently not related to any of the current crop of Craftons in Putnam County, the cenotaph (aka empty tomb) marker also lists wife Sarah F. Crafton, who died in 1937; and son Harry B. Crafton, who died in 1938, along with infant son Woodard Crafton, who died at seven months in 1888.

Sailing from New York aboard the Cincinnati, Crafton had reportedly already expressed his homesick feelings to fellow passengers before the ship had even completed its Atlantic crossing.

After spending time in Karlsbad, Germany, and Milan, Italy, Crafton wired his family -- addressing them for what became the final time -- with the notion he planned an early return to New York.

The Roachdale man was originally scheduled to depart from Europe on April 17 aboard the German ocean liner Kaiserin Auguste Victoria but happily exchanged his ticket on that steamer for first-class accommodations on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, leaving Southampton, England, a week earlier on April 12, 1912.

Records show Crafton paid 26 pounds, 11 shillings for his Titanic ticket and spent the night at the Victoria Hotel in London before boarding the supposedly unsinkable new pride of the White Star Line.

Crafton, a former telegraph operator, trainman and conductor for the Monon Railroad, had no reason to believe he wasn't about to sail off into the lap of luxury.

John Bertram Crafton
"The splendor that your first-class passenger would have enjoyed was extraordinary," Paul Byers, author of the new Titanic book "Arctic Fire and Catalyst," assured the Banner Graphic recently.

"The RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic was a legend even before the disaster," he added. "The ship was a feat of engineering marvel for the turn of the century and she was the ship of her time."

An amazing 882 feet in length, the Titanic and its 46,328 tons of steel was nearly three football fields in length, and was only the second ship to carry the novel idea of a swimming pool. It had an authentic Parisian Café, complete with French waiters, and even a veranda café with live palm trees, Byers noted.

"Some of the staterooms even had marble, coal-burning fireplaces," he told the Banner Graphic. "Plus, there were electric lights and heat in every room. While we take this for granted today, it was quite a luxury for its time.

"To put all the hype about the ship in perspective," the author added, "a first-class ticket to sail on the famous ship was $4,350. In today's money, that would be somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $80,000!"

Bertram perished along with 1,516 others when the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, about 375 miles south of Newfoundland. Just before 2:20 a.m. on April 15, the giant ship broke apart and sank bow-first with more than 1,000 people still on board.

There is no way to know for sure, but Crafton might have been one of those on board. His body was never recovered, and there is no record of him getting into one of the 20 lifeboats that would have accommodated 1,178 people (although there were 2,435 passengers and 892 crewmembers on board).

That Crafton went down with the ship should be torment enough for his legacy, however, a mystery novel, "The Titanic Murders," written by Mac Allan Collins and published in 1999, provides perhaps the ultimate indignation.

While the idea of creating a story about a mystery writer aboard the fateful ship trying to solve a murder on the Titanic before meeting his own demise is uniquely interesting, Collins uses the names of real passengers as his villains.

You've guessed it -- one of them is indeed John Bertram Crafton (Hugh Rood of Seattle is the other).

Meanwhile, the novel is quite kind to famous real-life passengers like John Jacob Astor VI, Margaret "Unsinkable Molly" Brown and Macy's department store owner Isidor Straus.

Crafton, whom the novel describes as a "weaselish blackmailing guard," becomes the murder victim in the Titanic novel after he approaches several passengers with exaggerated claims concerning their past and he promises to keep quiet about them -- for a fee.

Apparently the fictional Crafton even gets dangled over the Grand Staircase of the doomed ship after threatening another passenger in the novel. Later he meets his demise -- not in the reality of a watery grave --- but in his cabin where he is suffocated with a pillow.

Crafton's death becomes the centerpiece of "The Titanic Murders" as real-life detective/novelist Jacques Futrelle, himself one of the real casualties aboard the Titanic, searches for whoever might have killed Crafton.

It's tragic enough that Crafton had to die aboard the massive legendary ship, but then sadly his reputation has to suffer its own death nearly a century later.

Ironic indeed that while the true Titanic mystery never dies, one of its real victims appears to have done so twice.

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I love this artical, putnam county has so much history, wish there was a history book on all of putnam countys history, kinda like the old bottle factory that made the coke bottles or was it the caps, out of our sand around firn cliff. So much to learn about this county, wish someone would write a good book on this stuff, ide buy it as would many others. Good job eric bernsee, great artical, give us more like this to read and youll find more people reading the banner and looking foward to your articals. Very good job.

-- Posted by etphonehome on Thu, Apr 12, 2012, at 6:14 AM

His house still stands proud in Roachdale.

-- Posted by kcarnes on Fri, Apr 13, 2012, at 8:33 AM

Great story! Really enjoyed reading it. I had no idea that someone so close to home was on the Titanic.

-- Posted by interested party on Fri, Apr 13, 2012, at 8:59 AM

I enjoyed the read as well, ET. Thank you, Mr. Bernsee. Now that I'm older, I love history .. moreso than I did in HS, I'm afraid. ; )

-- Posted by Emmes on Mon, Apr 16, 2012, at 12:00 PM

Very interesting article.

-- Posted by lj7656 on Wed, Apr 18, 2012, at 2:16 PM

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