John Jacob Baba was born in Persia (now Iran) in 1882. Some time before the Great War he left the Middle East and emigrated to the United States of America. He settled in Chicago, Illinois, where there was quite a large community of ex-patriate Persians.
In early 1915, the community there heard a rumour that the Turkish rulers in Persia had carried out a massacre of some of the civilian population and fearing losses amongst relatives, decided to send a party back home to investigate. Altogether, nine Persian from Chicago were chosen to make the journey and John Baba was one of those.
The party left Chicago by rail at the end of April and arrived in New York on the morning of 1st May 1915 on the first part of their journey. They had already booked third class passage on the
Lusitania and boarded her at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time for her 10.00 a.m. sailing. This sailing was delayed, however, as the liner had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from Anchor Liner, the
Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for use as a troop ship at the end of April.
The voyage actually got under way just before 12.30 p.m., when many of the passengers had their last ever view of the New York skyline, for just six days later, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk only hours away from her Liverpool destination and only twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland, by the German submarine
Although six of the nine Chicago Persians were killed as a result of the sinking, John Baba managed to survive and having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown, from where he probably got to England. It is not known whether or not he ever made it to his native land, or was able to verify the rumours of massacre.
A member of the Chicago Persian community, Mr. Malik Hatam of 63, West Grand Avenue, Chicago, said later of the losses of his kinsfolk: -
It is a terrible blow to the Persians in Chicago, for on those lost, we depended for news of the wives, mothers and sweethearts imperiled
(sic) at home.
There were four Chicago Persians named Baba, on the Lusitania when she was sunk. Abraham Baba, aged 45 years and George Baba aged 39 years, were both killed and Frank Baba aged 30 years, like John Baba, survived. It is likely that they were all related. John Baba was aged 33 at the time of the sinking.
In the New York Times for 9th May 1915, it was reported: -
The following cablegram was received by Ohan Stevens of 713 North Clark Street, (Chicago) from his son Thomas, who sailed on the Lusitania with a party of twelve other Persians to visit his grandparents: “Father am safe, Son Thomas”.
Thomas Ohan Stephens was one of the three Persians who survived out of the nine that set out from Chicago.
Cunard Records, New York Times, PRO BT 100/345, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly