Rochester Native Finds Immortality in a Prisoner Camp by Grant Holcomb
Edward R. Crone, Jr. was born and raised in Rochester. His father, Edward Sr., worked in the insurance business and his mother, Nora, was a school teacher and a descendant of Elisha Johnson, the fifth Mayor of Rochester. Ed, a devoted member of St. Paul’s Church on East Avenue, attended the Brighton schools and was a student in the first class that graduated from the high school in 1941. He is remembered by Brighton friends as a quiet, shy and kind young man. After graduation, he enrolled at Hobart College and, in the spring of 1943, was drafted into the Army. Within eighteen months, he was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, became a prisoner of war and, shortly thereafter, witness to the catastrophic firebombing of Dresden in February of 1945.
A fellow soldier and prisoner of war was Kurt Vonnegut, later to become one of America’s finest novelists. Indeed, Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse-Five remains one of the milestones in 20th century American literature. Published in 1969, it was Vonnegut’s searing account of his time as a prisoner of war and witness to the devastation of Dresden. When published the novel was described as “an extraordinary success” and “a book that we need to read and re-read.” Vonnegut based the novel’s central character, Billy Pilgrim, on Rochester’s Ed Crone. But unlike Vonnegut (and Billy Pilgrim in the novel), Crone did not survive the war, marry or have children. Rather, the war, his captivity and the firebombing of Dresden simply sent Crone into a state of catatonic despair. As Vonnegut recounted, Crone “simply wasted away…he sat down with his back to the wall…stopped talking to us, stopped eating, giving his food away with a thousand-mile stare.”
Ed Crone is now buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. After visiting the grave site in 1995, Vonnegut wrote “There’s a wonderful Victorian cemetery [in Rochester]. And that’s where Billy Pilgrim is buried . . . . Visiting Crone’s grave closed out the war for me.” Thanks to the artist’s genius, Rochester’s Edward Crone lives on through the character of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five.