Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Such Urgency?

It seems a little out of the norm for protocol regarding routine passport applications to include both a cover letter and further letter of explanation. What was behind the letters and additional references for William H. Crago’s passport request?

For one thing, the application itself reminds us of his foreign-born status. Will Crago was born, not in the United States, but in New Harrington, Durham County, England. A while  after the date of his birth—“on or about the 3rd day of December, 1879”—Will’s father, John Crago, herded the family aboard the “fastest liner on the Atlantic” and headed for America. They traveled on the ss City of Berlin from Liverpool some time in April, 1881, settling shortly thereafter in Iron Mountain, Michigan. The family eventually attended to the legalities of the naturalization process before the Circuit Court of Dickinson County, at Iron Mountain, Michigan, becoming citizens on April 6, 1892.

On the passport application, Will Crago declared his permanent residence to be Duluth, Minnesota. He reported himself to be a mining engineer, and listed his intended destinations to be the Union of South Africa, en route to “Congo Belge Africa.” The accompanying letter from his potential employer, as we saw yesterday, explained that his services were needed to consult on the use of specific American-made equipment for an international company engaged in “supplying copper to Ministry of Munitions of the British Government.”

I don’t know how tedious the governmental bureaucratic red tape was during the year of 1917, but Will’s application, filed November 24, indicated his intent to depart New York by the “latter part of December, 1917,” about a month away. Perhaps that explains the inclusion of the officious documentation by the intermediaries for the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga.

There is, of course, more to the explanation than that. Taking a look at the date—as well as the broad clue dropped by the mining company regarding the “Ministry of Munitions”—reminds us of the bigger picture of world events at the time. Though seemingly disorganized in its readiness to do so, the United States had finally declared its intention to enter the foray of the Great War barely seven months earlier, on April 6, 1917. William Crago’s presence at the remote site of these copper mines essentially  assisted the war effort through the British government’s contract with this mining organization. It was in someone’s interest to see that the State Department of the United States understood how to cut through any potential red tape in the process.

Photograph: The ss City of Berlin, circa 1898; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

1 comment:

  1. In roughly a year from this date, the "great war" would be over - but at the time, the news from the front must have been pretty grim. has a timeline - for the war.

    Belgium as a nation must have been in shambles in 1917. Flanders and Ypres were battlefields in Belgium.


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