Saturday April 14, 2012

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Banner on March 28, 2008.

NEAL GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Charles Cresson Jones penned a letter to his friend aboard the Titanic and posted it April 10, 1912 -- the day the infamous ship began its maiden voyage to America. It was the disastrous events just four days later, however, that have given great value to his letter and other accompanying papers.

Worked for Colgate family

Jones was born Jan. 22, 1866, outside of Philadelphia, but at the time of his death aboard the Titanic he was residing in Bennington. He worked as superintendent of the vast Fillmore Farms, the 4,000-acre estate of the Colgate family, founders of the toothpaste brand. A shepherd by trade, Jones had journeyed to England to purchase sheep from a Dorset, England, farmer named James Foot.

But just four days into its journey the new White Star liner, Titanic -- the largest passenger ship of its time -- struck a hefty iceberg, tearing a 300-foot gash in the ship's hull, and securing its fate. Some who survived the sinking reported that Jones responded to the collision and subsequent chaos with bravery, helping to load women and children into life boats.

A friend from New York, who remains unnamed, called to Jones to don a life vest and follow him into the water. Unable to swim, Jones declined, and reportedly drew a cigar from his pocket and calmly lit it. He perished shortly thereafter, along with more than 1,500 others, as the ship sunk into the icy water in the early hours of April 15. His body was later recovered by the ship Mackay-Bennet and returned to Bennington, where it was buried in the Old First Church cemetery in Old Bennington.

Jones had written his last letter to Foot, on Titanic stationery, and it begins, "My Dear Friend, just had lunch and a cigar and feel fine ..."

Jones went on to thank Foot for his hospitality during the trip. "I want you to realize that I most truly appreciate all you have done and are doing to make my visit pleasant and hope to return the favor sometime," he wrote.

Now, nearly a century later, relatives of Foot have rediscovered the letter, along with telegrams between Foot and Jones' employer, James C. Colgate, and articles from the Bennington Evening Banner published in 1912. The material, now belonging to Foot's great-granddaughter, Penny Ems, of Hampshire, England, will be auctioned by Duke's Auctioneers of Dorcester.

"I would imagine my grandfather put them in the envelope and they have been there ever since," Ems said. The letters, telegrams and newspapers were found by chance, she said. "We only found these papers after my father died and we were going through things," Ems said. "My son opened the envelope and spotted the Titanic paper."

The sale of the documents is expected to fetch a fair amount at auction, according to Deborah Doyle of Duke's auction house. "Titanic memorabilia is very popular and there are many collectors on both sides of the Atlantic," Doyle said. "It is difficult to estimate the value of a unique collection such as this, but it has been valued at between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds (or $15,000 to $18,000)."

"The story contained within these documents is very moving," Doyle added. "Not only is there the letter written by Mr. Jones on White Star paper that arrived days before the Titanic sank, but there is all the correspondence after the sinking."

The various types of materials included in the lot also make it rare and valuable, she said.

"There are telegrams that show the receding hope of finding Mr. Jones alive, then the newspaper articles from the Bennington Evening Banner with accounts of the disaster," Doyle said. "One account described how Mr. Jones was seen on the ship after the collision preparing for his death."

A telegram, from Colgate to Foot, sent on April 16 before Jones' death was confirmed, shows Colgate's despair. "No news fear the worst," Colgate wrote.

Jones' housekeeper, Elizabeth Mellinger, and her teenage daughter were also aboard the Titanic. They had been second class passengers, however, and survived the disaster because women and children were loaded into lifeboats first. Foot cabled back to Colgate that Mellinger and her daughter had not seen Jones.

"They had not seen Mr. Jones since Sunday afternoon. Not a word of any kind has been heard from him, and we can only conjecture that he met his death like the man he was," Foot wrote. Foot also wrote that he had taken the Mellingers in after the tragedy. "I took them immediately to my house, and they are still there," he wrote. "Both seemed well, but yesterday morning when I cabled, I had received word that Mrs. Mellinger seemed to be feeling the reaction and was somewhat stunned."

After Jones' death was confirmed, Colgate continued to keep in touch with Foot, sending him newspaper articles from the Bennington Evening Banner. One article, published in May 1912, illustrates Jones' last moments on the ship. A witness by the name of A.H. Barkworth told the Banner how he jumped into the water after the collision and saw Jones and another man called Mr. Gee still aboard.

"Jones and Gee were standing by, with arms on the rail, looking down. I imagine they were preparing for death," Barkworth said.

Another Banner article published after Jones' death was confirmed speaks to a possible premonition Jones had of his voyage. The report states that "for weeks before he left Fillmore he told the boys his ‘heart was not in the trip.'" He also told his assistant, Charlie Brettle, that "I'll never return. My books and accounts are all in good shape, and I want you to take charge of them."