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Local Man Lost on Titanic

Looking Back article by Rose McIlveen Apr 21 1984

One of the more ostentatious tombstones in Rose Hill Cemetery bears the name of J.B. Crafton. The impressive monument – made of two colors of granite with ornamental carving – is, in reality, only a memorial to the man. He isn’t buried beside there or anywhere near there for that matter.

Like many Indiana residents, the parents of John B. Crafton were settlers who came here from Kentucky. They lived on a farm in the southern part of the country, and their son, John, attended school there. The year he was born – 1853 – the tracks of the brand new New Albany and Salem Railroad (later the Monon) were being laid on a northward course through Monroe County. It was also the era of the founding of some of the area’s limestone companies.

It may have been the romance of the railboard’s little pufferbelly engines that captured young Crafton’s fancy. When he left the farm to come to the “city” of Bloomington, he started hanging around the Monon station.

In time he learned to operate their telegraph, but the trains were more to his liking. Crafton was eventually promoted to conductor and trainmaster. His obituary in the Daily Telephone indicated that he was a good friend of W.R. Woodward, onetime superintendent of the Monon.

Information about the middle of Crafton’s life is rather scarce. The 1900 census for Monroe County indicates that in that year he was 47 and living in Bloomington Township with his wife, Sarah (Alexander) and son Harry, 14.

At some point Crafton began speculating in real estate – namely land located in the southern part of the county where he came from. It is possible that he and his brother, David, had inherited the family farm and began specializing in the buying and selling of land suitable for limestone quarrying.

In any case, newspaper reports indicate that Crafton amassed some $50,000 and was called the “stone king.” Eventually he sold his interests in the county and invested in lumber in MIssissippi. Late in the fall of 1911 he was back in Bloomington to visit friends and relatives, among whom were W.T. Blair, Charles Barnhill, Mrs. L.D. Rogers and Mrs. Osman Welson. He was off, he told them, to Europe for a vacation and to see if spa baths would ease his rheumatism.

But homesickness prompted Craftron to cut short his vacation in Europe. In fact, he was so anxious to get home that he unwittingly made a fatal error.

His return steamship trip had been booked on the German liner Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. Hearing that a posh new liner was making its maiden voyage a week earlier, Crafton turned in his original ticket and bought a berth on the Titanic, which sailed in April, 1912.

Much has been written about the only voyage of the liner – the largest ever built at a cost of $10 million. It was also supposed to be the safest, because it had been built with watertight compartments. The crew and passengers numbered 2,244. The majority of the 1,178 places in the lifeboats were gallantly given to the women and children. Only 20 percent of the men aboard survived.

John B. Crafton was not one of them. Several days after the disaster word was received in Bloomington that the liner’s company had informed his wife (who was in Roachdale) that her husband was presumed lost.

In can be said, however, that the Monroe County farmboy who amassed a fortune of his own, died in impressive company. Also drowned when the Titanic sank were John Jacob Astor Jr., Benjamin Guggenheim, Isador Strauss and George Widener, whose collective fortunes were reputed to have been worth some $191 million.

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