Will Crago evidently was successful in his pursuit of an American passport, even during war years, as passenger records at least show his return trip after the Great War’s conclusion. As his passport application indicated, his intended departure would be aboard the SS City of Cairo, a British passenger steamer remembered much later for its ill-fated journey in the midst of a subsequent World War with U-boat commander Karl-Friedrich Merten’s odd but legendary dismissal, “Goodnight, and sorry for sinking you.”
I take it the voyage bearing Mr. Crago to his destination in South Africa was less eventful.
We are fortunate, nowadays, to have online accessibility to these many archived records. From the copy of Will Crago’s passport application, we can glean hints about his appearance: Stature, 5 feet, 8¾ inches; Hair, light brown; Eyes, blue; Nose, medium; Mouth, medium; Chin, regular; Face, medium.
On second thought, perhaps there isn’t much to glean from this description.
We even have a copy of his signature, which will come in handy when we puzzle over an anomaly that popped up during his absence from his hometown address of 1205 East Second Street, Duluth, Minnesota.
Even better, we have a copy of his passport photo. Forget those enigmatic government passport descriptions! Just take a look at that face!
But what about this three year journey? It occurred in the midst of traveling dangers, to be sure. Most all of Europe was now embroiled in the Great War. The United States had now entered the fray. Even remote locations in places like Africa were not immune from being seen in a war-tinged shade of light. Perhaps the main reason Will Crago remained away from home, from his family, and from his adopted country was because there was no safe way to return.
And so, mining engineer William H. Crago remained at the vicinity of the copper mines in the Katanga region of the Belgian Congo until 1921.
However, in the meantime, the United States had been drafting its citizens to participate in this Great War. At first, the requirements for registration were for young men between the ages of twenty one and thirty one. At that date, June 5, 1917, Will Crago was beyond that range, being nearly thirty eight, himself.
However, when the requirements were expanded to include all men between the ages of twenty one and forty five in 1918, that change had an impact on Will.
There was only one problem: his status at the time was that he was already out of the country. How was he to register?
Curious as to how Will—or the company sending him overseas—would handle this dilemma, I took a look online to see if I could discover any World War I registration card for him.
I found one. It was signed by William Crago on September 7,1918.
With that same governmental precision as was demonstrated on his passport, this document identified Will as having medium height and medium build, with blue eyes and light brown hair. It showed him to be a naturalized citizen, with his father, John, still living in Michigan. It even showed him to be working for the right company, the Oliver Iron Company, in the same county as his Duluth residence, Saint Louis County, Minnesota.
The only problem: the date of birth was incorrect. It showed his birth occurring on March 27, 1874.
Oh. And that other problem: William H. Crago wasn’t even in the country to sign this document. At the time, he was in Elisabethville in the Belgian Congo, a matter of a mere eight thousand miles away.
Photograph, above left: William Henry Crago, from his United States Passport application dated November 24, 1917; above signature from the same 1917 document; compare with the second signature at bottom right, purportedly from his World War I registration card, perhaps completed in proxy on his behalf.