Mr Karl Jonsson was born in Loushult, Kristianstad, Sweden on 12 May 1886.
He was the son of Johan Nilsson (b. 15 December 18501 in Stockhult), a railway worker, and Ingrid (née Nilsson (b. 3 August 18542 in Vissefjärda).
His known siblings were: an unnamed child (b. 3 July 1877), Blenda Sofia (b. 20 September 1878), Emil (b. 18 May 1880), Ida (b. 9 December 1881), Otto Viktor (b. 15 August 1883), Oskar Bernard Nikolaus (b. 5 November 1887), Blenda Maria (b. 18 November 1889), Anna Matilda (b. 14 March 1891), Klara (b. 17 March 1893) and Axel (b. 14 May 1894).
He left Loushult sometime around 1906 and settled in Malmö where he worked as a railway brakeman.
Travelling from Kvilleberga, Sweden via Denmark Jonsson purchased his ticket for the Titanic in Copenhagen (ticket number 350417 which cost £7, 17s, 1d). He boarded at Southampton as a third-class passenger with his travelling companions Pål Andreasson, Albert Augustsson, Nils Johansson and his sister in law Olga Lundin. The American Senate list gave his destination as Huntley, Illinois.
He survived the sinking, arriving in New York aboard the Carpathia and listing his next of kin as his father in Sweden and his destination being that of his employer, C. A. Smith Sawmill in Camden, Minneapolis, Minnesota which is where he travelled to after being given $25 by The Woman's Relief Committee in New York.
In one known contemporary interview provided by Jonsson (albeit via an interpreter), the method of his survival is questionable; there is a possibility he escaped after swimming to collapsible A or B, or he may have simply left the ship in one of the functioning lifeboats. Like several survivors he—or the newspaper interviewing him—tried to implicate one of the Astors in his survival.
Reaching Minnesota Karl Jonsson gave an interview to the Minneapolis Star Tribune (1 May 1912). Already in full employment with the C. A. Smith lumber company , he was described as a strapping “powerful man, 6 feet 3 inches tall, and weigh[ing] 205 lbs. He is 26 years old. He said all he had when he reached New York was a picture of the young woman in Sweden to whom he is engaged and two Swedish pennies.” Despite his ordeal, it was stated that he carried no ill effects and was a picture of perfect physical health, having been given modest monetary assistance as well as new shoes and clothes. The article also states that it was his original intention of heading to Alaska when he joined Titanic.
He spoke of his travelling companions: “With me were my cousin and three young companions. Besides these four I became acquainted on the boat with two Swedish girls who were coming to America.”
Speaking of the collision with the iceberg, he said “I heard nothing of the ship striking. I was sound asleep in my birth and was awakened by the water when it flooded the bed. I jumped out and waded to the upper deck. The ship was sinking fast. The bow was down and the stern was high in the air. I found my friends. We all put on life preservers. We decided to stick together.
When we went under the four boys and myself were holding hands and the two girls were clinging to my coat. It felt as though a current drew us toward the stern of the ship. When I came to the surface I was alone. The water was ice cold and we had been unable to cling together. I looked up and saw the propeller of the Titanic high above my head. People were floating and struggling all about me and the screaming was terrible.
There was a loud explosion. I saw something hurled from Titanic make straight for me. I feared it would strike me in the head and kill me. It was a large door blown from the ship and it splashed in the water close by. I grabbed it and climbed onto it. I floated for six hours and a half, drifting near a boat. I wanted to be taken in but they seemed afraid. But a woman, whom I was told was Mrs Astor, reached me her hand and a ship’s officer dragged me aboard.”
Jonsson goes on to contradict himself in the same interview when he gives a slightly more plausible version of events, even if still debatable: “I had a fight in the water when I tried to join six men sitting on a collapsible boat. I wanted to take hold of the end of it, but one fellow kicked at me. He struck me in the arm just below the shoulder. I got mad and grabbed his leg and hung to it until daylight.”
A few weeks later the Minneapolis Star Tribune (20 May 1912) reported that well-wishers in his tight-knit Swedish community had a fundraiser for him, raising him $100 and surprising him with the donation at a meeting held at the Swedish Brothers’ Hall on 4th Street and 7th Avenue in the city.
What Karl Jonsson did over the following decades remains uncertain; there has been the suggestion that he married an Oregon-born woman Jenny Ingram (b. circa 1897) in June 1920, but having no children and eventually divorcing after having spent the 1920s and 1930s living at different addresses in Oregon in Douglas County and later Clatsop County where this “Carl Johnson” worked as a head breakman on logging trains, a profession that would not have been unfamiliar with the man who had been on the Titanic.
What we do know of Karl Jonsson is that he did indeed work with the railroad before settling in Blachly, Lane County, Oregon in the last fifteen years of his life where he worked for the Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative until his retirement. He was a familiar presence at nearby Triangle Lake, becoming friendly with many in the community and often recanting his story of the Titanic in the thick-Swedish accent that he retained for the rest of his life. “Ja, it vas turrible, turrible! I shall nev-er forget it!” he would say of the disaster, friends remembered. Those same friends related, second-hand, his experiences and his wish to join the mining adventure in Alaska when he boarded Titanic. They confirmed that he had been married and divorced but had no children.
Karl Jonsson suffered a nervous breakdown in the last few months of his life. He died in hospital in Eugene, Oregon on 14 May 1956 just two days after his 70th birthday. He was buried at an IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) Cemetery, probably at Junction City, Oregon.
JOHNSON - Carl Johnson of Blachly, Oregon passed away Monday May 14, 1956 in the Eugene Hospital at the age of 72. He was born in Sweden in 1884, and had made his home in the Blachly area for the past 15 years. Funeral services will be held Thursday May 17, 1956 at 10 a.m. at the Murphy Funeral Home, Junction City with Rev. Harold Olsen officiating. Interment in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery. - Eugene Guard, 15 May 1956