Miss Laura May Cribb

Laura May Cribb

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 Cribb as a child

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)

Titanic Drawing
A drawing of the Titanic from Laura's Diary
(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. 

Howard Buzzell in 1917
Howard Buzzell in 1917

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).

Laura Buzzell in 1966
Laura in 1966
The Current-Argus, 14 April 1966

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.

Laura Buzzell in 1973
Laura in 1973
The Current-Argus, 23 March 1973

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.

Notes

  1. Laura May as per her birth and baptismal records. Graham Cribb gives her name as "Laura Alice Cribb", Findlay (1998) gives her name as "Laura Mary Cribb", her death certificate and other documents give her name as "Laura Mae".
  2. They appear on the 1930 census twice, at their own address as stated above, and secondly at North State Street, Lowville, the home of Howard’s married sister and her family.

Pictures

Laura Mae Cribb in later years
Wilmington News Journal  (2012) 
LAURA MAE CRIBB IN LATER YEARS
Laura Cribb in 1948
Daily Current-Argus  (1948) 
LAURA CRIBB IN 1948
Laura Mae Cribb in 1917
(1917) 
LAURA MAE CRIBB IN 1917
Howard Marsh Buzzell, husband of Laura Cribb
(1917) 
HOWARD MARSH BUZZELL, HUSBAND OF LAURA CRIBB
Laura Cribb in 1916
(1916) 
LAURA CRIBB IN 1916
Howard Marsh Buzzell, husband of Laura Mary Cribb
HOWARD MARSH BUZZELL, HUSBAND OF LAURA MARY CRIBB
 

Articles and Stories

(1974) 
Newark Star (1912) 
Newark Star (1912) 
 

Comment and discuss

  1. matthew Sims said:

    To Phillip Gowan or anyone that helped contribute to this young ladies bio, could you please type in full the message her mother gave to her on 4-10-12? It was very touching and moving, and i could make out most, but not quite all of it. Also, i think her sketch of Titanic should be shown on the front of the page of this fine site every now and then. But thats my humble opinion, and Mr Hind should do as he sees fit. for its time, its a marvelous piece of work. Does anyone know where i may go to research more on her life? For as i have this instinct that there is a lot more to... Read full post

  2. avatar

    Phillip Gowan said:

    Matthew, Will see if I can dig it up-- About a year ago a TV station in New Mexico contacted me and ended up sending a camera crew here to SC to interview me about passengers with New Mexico connections. Of course she was one of the prominent ones. Unfortunately at the time I didn't have a good photo of her but they did get someone to go to Carlsbad and got a good photo of the gravestone to use in the story. Since then I've had some contact with family members and have a couple of great photos of her now. A little down the line you'll probably see them pop up here on her ET biography. Her... Read full post

  3. Pat Cook said:

    Hi Matthew, A few years back I received a copy of the December, 1998 magazine, "Guideposts". In it, there is a good article on Laura and her father, written by her grandson Eric Buzzell in Croghan, New York - (If some of this has been covered already, I apologize.) Buzzell writes about how he was contacted by a magazine writer just after the movie came out and the magazine writer had a copy of an article written by Laura entitled "My Experience of the Wreck of the R. M. S. Titanic". Obviously, because of copyrights, I can't quote it here but if you contact the "Guidepost" magazine... Read full post

  4. Colleen Collier said:

    There is a documentary floating around with you in it eh? Colleen

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  5. avatar

    Phillip Gowan said:

    It did air--whenever James Cameron's "Titanic" first premiered on network TV (November of 2000?). A first cousin of mine in Santa Fe called me to say that she had seen it as did my old college roommate who then lived in Hobbs. I have never seen it myself but when the camera crew came I was battling an awful case of bronchitis--am sure I sounded more like I was screeching than talking and I'll sleep better if I don't ever know firsthand how it turned out. The reporter who did the story in New Mexico used to be a lurker on this messageboard but I don't know if he still is. He was a native of... Read full post

  6. matthew Sims said:

    Phil Pat and all-Again as always thank you thank you thank you for the most useful info. I dont know why, but whenever i start to look at the passenger bio listings, i like a homing bird go to the 3rd class passengers. And as soon as you see her portrait, sketch, whatever, it grabs you. Is there any indication about what period in hr life she drew it? And just a sense im getting, but it seemed like QUITE A LOT of the overall passengers aboard were teenagers..Was there any study or research done to determine the actual percentage onboard?

  7. Delia Mahoney said:

    Her biography in ET say that she was rescue in lifeboat 12. According to this site Laura was in lifeboat 16. I would like know where is true. Are we sure that she got into the one of portside boats? She certainly wasn't in 6 and 8. I think she could be in lifeboat 10 but that's only guess. Lifeboat 4, 2 or collapsible D are possible too. All the best, Delia

  8. Shane Worthy said:

    This is a very good question, and one to perhaps inquire with her family (without intruding). Ms. Cribb married Mr. Howard Buzzell in 1916 and her grandson is still around, Mr. Mark Earnest Buzzell. All Ahead Full!

  9. Joseph Kendrick said:

    Hi Miss Cribb was 17 years old Lived in New Jerseyans was traveling there and survived in lifeboat 12 Miss Abelseth was 16 lived in Alesund Norway was traveling to Minneapolis survived in lifeboat 16 traveled in 3rd class boarded in Southampton traveled with Olaus Abelseth (no relation) Adolf Humblen Sigrid Moen Anna Salkjelsvik and Peter Soholt.Karen was cousins with Humblen Salkjelsvik and Soholt. Olaus Karen and Anna survived. Joe

  10. Christian J Cody said:

    It was stated somewhere on this site that John Cribb placed his 16-year-old daughter Laura into Lifeboat 12.

  11. Holly Peterson said:

    There is a photo of Laura as a young woman, probably in her twenties, on a website called "Titanic Passengers." Just go to Google, type in Laura Cribb - Titanic and you'll eventually find it. There are several pictures of Karen in her twenties in the book 31 Norwegian Destinies (the author's name escapes me at the moment.) Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any pictures of these two as teens.

  12. Kathleen Poulin said:

    Have you seen Laura Mae (Mary) Cribb's 1916 passport photo? I put Mary in there because she gives her name as Laura Mary on the application? I'm pretty certain it's her application, as date of birth, location, and her father's information are a match. I can post the photo if you haven't seen it, just have to size it first. Kathleen

  13. Holly Peterson said:

    If this passport photo is the one at - then yes, I've seen it. If not, please hurry to post it

    attachment
  14. Kathleen Poulin said:

    Yes, that's the one Holly. Sorry, I know how great it is to find new photos. Kathleen

  15. Holly Peterson said:

    That's fine, Kathleen! Don't feel bad.

  16. Holly Peterson said:

    On Laura Cribb's ET biography, there is a picture of a poem she wrote in her diary on the Titanic; does anyone know what this poem says?

  17. Holly Peterson said:

    I have recently begun to find interest in this passenger, especially her account given under the 'Articles' section of her ET Bio. I found it quite tragic and compelling, and wondered if there's any truth in the story she told about her father knowing about or having access to some staircase that was known only by the crew. Anyways, I thought it was an interesting story, and being interested in the teens and young adults on the Titanic, I was wondering, does anyone known anything more about her time on the ship, any accounts she might have given, etc? And is it known if the famous poem and... Read full post

  18. avatar

    Allan Wolf said:

    I would LOVE to know what her poem says.

  19. J.E. Nesset said:

    I have a 14-page letter that I believe Miss Cribb wrote to my grandfather, E.G. Pemberton, a few years later (1915) describing her experience. He was living in Toronto at the time and I am curious as to how he might have known Miss Cribb. He was born in London in 1892 and came to Canada in 1907 settling in Toronto where he ended up in the leather goods business. I can be reached at . J.E. Neset (17/04/2011)

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Graham Cribb
Phillip Gowan, USA
Ben R. Roberts, USA
Hermann Söldner, Germany

References and Sources

My Experience of the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic by Laura Mae Cribb
State of New Mexico Certificate of Death
Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Unidentified newspaper April 1974, Obituary
Carlsbad Current Argus, 16 June 2002 Late Carlsbad Resident spared from watery grave when might ship sank
Carlsbad Current Argus, 15 April 1971, Carlsbad woman survived sinking of Titanic  
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2020) Laura May Cribb (ref: #746, last updated: 31st March 2020, accessed 2nd June 2020 06:32:35 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/laura-may-cribb.html