Miss Laura May Cribb was born in Newark, Essex, New Jersey on 24 July 1895.
She was the daughter of an Anglo-Australian father, John Hatfield Cribb (b. 27 April 1868), a butler, and an English-born mother, Bessie Jane Welch (b. 8 February 1868). Her father was born in Adelaide to English parents and later returned to England where he was married in 1894 to Bessie Jane Welch who was a native of Parkstone, Dorset. The couple settled in Newark, New Jersey where they began their family.
She had three siblings: Ernest Hatfield (b. 23 May 1897), Ellen Kate (b. 17 December 1899) and Frank Victor (b. 20 December 1905), all of who were born in England.
Laura was a sickly child and as an infant her parents were advised that the New Jersey climate and its polluted air were not favourable to her health; Mrs Cribb was advised to bring her baby daughter back to rural England whilst her father remained in Newark, he eventually traversing the ocean frequently to see to his family.
Laura and her family appear on the 1901 census living at Ashley Road, Branksome, Dorset and later on the 1911 census at Helenita, Salterns Road, Poole. At the time of the later record she was described as an apprentice in the "view department" (?). Her father made another visit to Britain in September 1911 and during this latest trip Laura decided she wanted to return to her birthplace.
Laura and her father boarded the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912 as third-class passengers (ticket number 371362, which cost £16, 2s). Their destination was Newark, New Jersey and it was intended that the rest of the family would join them in due course to settle permanently.
Miss Cribb later spoke of her experiences to the Newark Evening Star (19 April 1912):
We were up later than usual that night, for the weather was fine and the stars were bright. Most of the third cabin, where father and I were, had stayed up late and were just turning in for the night. I had said goodbye to papa and was in my room, but had not disrobed, and that is how I happen to be wearing the same black dress which I wore all day Sunday on the Titanic.
I felt the jolt when the iceberg was struck, but was not much frightened, until the men and women commenced to shout and scream and rush for the deck. The I looked around for father. I am sure he was looking for me, too, because several times I thought I heard his voice calling my name. It sounded faintly above the tumult, and even after I had been almost pushed into a lifeboat and it had been cut away from the ship, I still imagined I heard papa calling and I tried to answer, but my voice was as nothing against the awful noise.
It did not seem long after we were taken off until the big vessel went down. It was terrible to realise that there were people drowning. Of course, I could not help, but hope and almost feel sure that my father was safe aboard another boat. It did not seem possible that anything so serious could happen. I was almost frozen before we were finally taken aboard the Carpathia, for I had only this dress, and none of the others had any more clothing.
This account differs in several respects from accounts she gave later, and only the following day in an interview with a different paper, the Newark Star, she gave an alternate account which included meeting up with her father who escorted her to a lifeboat. In a 1948 interview, which sticks closely to her second interview, Laura stated that she had been asleep at the time of the collision, the jolt making her sit upright in bed where she sat for several minutes, listening to her bunkmates’ breathing. One of her cabinmates then awoke, exclaiming “Oh, my God, what has happened?” before imploring Laura to go an investigate as she could not leave her children alone. Laura complied and left their cabin, finding the passageways full of people with the same curiosity. She then said:
I had only been in the main passage a few minutes when I heard father calling me, and I answered as loudly as I could and soon he was beside me, and he asked me if I was fully dressed, and I replied that I was, so we went up to the end of the passage to talk with some of our fellow passengers. After we had been laughing and chatting for a while, my father turned to me and said that we should probably have to go out in the lifeboats for half an hour or more as we had met with an accident and they would want to lessen the weight of the ship… but I am sure father knew something very serious had happened and that once away from the ship we would never return. - The Daily Current-Argus, 23 May 1948
Not long after this exchange a series of crewmen passed by ordering everyone to get lifebelts and get up on deck. Laura immediately returned to her cabin to see her companions; she fetched one lifebelt for herself and distributed the others to her friends, telling them that if they went out into the passageway someone would assist them in putting the garments on. With that, Laura left them and rushed back to her father. The identities of Laura’s cabinmates is unknown.
Laura then states that she and her father moved swiftly and were among the first up on the well-deck, the pair hurrying towards an iron ladder that brought them up into second class, both having to navigate their way over a little gate at the top.
Then we went through the saloon and up to the first class staterooms and out on to the deck where the lifeboats were ready to be lowered. As soon as we appeared an officer came up and told father to put the lifebelt on me, which he did at once, and then father told me to go and get as near to the lifeboats as I could. I then left him and neither of us spoke as we expected to meet again. - The Daily Current-Argus, 23 May 1948
It is not clear in which lifeboat Laura left the ship, but she does provide some clues:
I was not able to get into the first two lifeboats being lowered, but was put into the third. When we had been lowered about halfway down, one of the pulleys got stuck, and we all thought we should be overturned into the sea, but it started working again just in time to prevent such a calamity. - The Daily Current-Argus, 23 May 1948
Laura also claimed that two Chinese men, who had rushed up from the steerage, pushed their way through the crowd and jumped into the lifeboat, an officer shooting them both and tossing their bodies over the side.
Laura's father was lost in the sinking. Upon her rescue by the Carpathia she reported a stark contrast in steerage accommodation to what she had been accustomed on Titanic. She also gleefully related that she and her acquaintances (presumably British and American) were treated more preferentially than the "foreigners" among the surviving steerage passengers who were relegated to a separate section of the ship.
A poem from Laura's Diary, signed from her mother, 4 October 1912
(Courtesy of Ben R.Roberts)
Upon her arrival in New York Laura was brought to St Vincent’s Hospital where she was eventually located by relatives and friends. Laura fell ill whilst in Newark and she remained there for several weeks at the home of an uncle, John Welch until her health was considered robust enough for travel. She then returned to England, arriving in Liverpool aboard the Celtic on 29 June 1912 and was later reunited with her mother and siblings. She took up work as a sales clerk in a department store but within a few years she went to live with relatives in Toronto, Ontario where she spent the next two years. It was on her return to England in October 1916 aboard a camouflaged Baltic that she met her future husband.
Aboard the Baltic Laura met mechanic and electrician Howard Marsh Buzzell (b. 19 March 1894 in Charlemont, Massachusetts) whilst she was selling tickets for a whist game; their attraction was such that by the time they docked in Liverpool on 14 October 1916 they had become engaged. They married in Poole less than a month later on 12 November 1916. Years later Buzzell joked:
“The first time I saw my wife she asked me for a quarter and she has been asking me for quarters ever since.” - The Carlsbad Current-Argus, 14 April 1966
The couple settled for a time in west London and in 1917, via the US embassy, Laura obtained a US passport which described her as standing at 5’ 7¾” and having a fair complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, an oval face and a straight nose. Husband and wife then left England and arrived in New York aboard the Megantic on 11 December 1918, bound for 189 Lancaster Street in Albany, New York.
The couple initially made their home in Albany and appeared on the 1920 census living at Jay Street in that city where Howard worked as an electrician in a garage. By 1925 they had moved to Schenectady, listed as residents of Cromer Avenue in that year’s census. Another move by the time of the 1930 census saw them living at 136 South Street in Lowville, New York2.
They had five children: Howard (1919-2000), Virginia (later Williams, 1920-2005), Ernest (1921-2000), Elizabeth (later Kendall, 1928-2007) and Shirley (later Carroll, b. 1935).
In the 1940s the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona but the stay there was brief and in 1948 they moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico where Howard Buzzell took a position as an electrician in the potash mines in that city. It wasn’t long before Laura’s Titanic credentials became public knowledge in her new home and just two months after their arrival in that city, on 23 May 1948, the Daily Current-Argus tracked her down and interviewed her about her experiences. Laura became a local celebrity and granted many interviews during her 27 years in Carlsbad. In 1958 she was invited to New York to the premiere of A Night to Remember but she declined, fearing it would be too emotional.
In 1931 Laura and her daughter Elizabeth made a return voyage to Britain where her mother and siblings still lived. Her mother eventually died in Bournemouth on 23 April 1951.
Following the death of her husband on 31 August 1961, Laura moved to Lakeview Christian Home in Carlsbad where she remained for the rest of her life. An avid reader, Mrs Buzzell was also active for over forty years in the Rebecca Degree of Odd Fellowship and was a member of Cavern City Ladies Auxillary, serving as secretary, vice president and then president. She also dabbled in history and was a church historian, member of Commission of Missions and was scrapbook chairman of the Epworth Methodist Church. A few years after the sinking she wrote and illustrated her own account of the Titanic disaster.
Laura May Buzzell, née Cribb, died following a stroke on 4 April 1974 and was buried in Carlsbad Cemetery with her husband.