Monday, August 18, 2008

A History of Schroon Lake Drownings Recalled


With all the news about Michael Phelps medal wins at the Olympics, some Adirondack Almanack readers may have missed the two tragedies that occurred on Schroon Lake last week.

On Sunday night, two boats (both running without navigation lights) collided just before 11 p.m. A Boston Whaler operated by 17-year old Gerald Smith turned in front of a Hydrostream Vector (operated by Brett D. Bernhard, 20, of Horicon). Daniel Miller, 20, also of Horicon and a passenger on the Hydrostream, was hit in the head during the collision and knocked unconscious. He was taken by ambulance to Moses-Ludington Hospital in Ticonderoga and then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington – he was in critical condition with a severe head injury.

Then on Tuesday night, Elizabeth A. Weiner, 81, of Cazenovia, drowned behind the Davis Motel, near where her family has a summer camp: “Investigators said Mrs. Weiner left her camp to go wading by herself in Schroon Lake. She was a seasonal resident of Schroon Lake, police said, and known to be a non-swimmer.”

Visitors and locals alike fall from shore, docks, and out of boats of all sorts. In the days of closer connection to lakes and waterways for drinking, washing, ice, work, transportation, and entertainment, drownings were far more common. “Many Drowned Sunday” reads one report from 1910 that gives accounts of “several accidental drownings” in Connecticut; three drowned in the Delaware River near Philadelphia; a man and woman in the Ohio River and another near Scranton; the bodies of Eddie Hammond and Harold Driscoll (both nine) discovered in the Varnick Canal in Oswego, NY; John Whalen and Francis Forti drowned in a creek near Albany. That same Sunday Frank Namo was drowned bathing in the Black River, and the Brooklynite superintendent of the Lake Placid Yacht Club, Oscar C. Nicholas, was also drowned while bathing. Swimming has taken the largest toll by far.

I thought I’d take a closer look at drownings in Schroon Lake to get an indication of what the overall historic statistics may look like. In the twenty years between 1924 and 1944 – a time when the resort area was in its heyday – at least 14 people drowned, plus two more in nearby Gull Pond, and at least one in Trout Brook which runs into Schroon, a number of other drowned in the Schroon River.

Of the fourteen, two were women (both servants), the rest were all males, including two boys. The vast majority were under the age of 30. Two, in different incidents, were men on their honeymoons (both were staying at Moon Hill Camp). Two were employed by the Little Club and two by Scaroon Manor. Three were laborers. Five of the fourteen were locals.

What follows is a look at all the drowning deaths I could locate in local papers for Schroon Lake between about 1875 and 1950:

On September 15, 1884, 80-year old Hiram Jenks, described in a local paper as “the best known fisherman and guide in Essex county,” was found drowned in Schroon Lake near the Grove Point House. He had left home on a fishing expedition the night before.

A 1906 newspaper article “A nurse had a cramp while bathing and sank,” described the death of a Miss White, who drowned while swimming with her employers children in Schroon Lake.

In October of 1908 alcohol appeared to be a factor in the drowning of Frank DuBois, employed building a road nearby. According to a local newspaper report DuBois had, “left his boarding place to go to the village for supplies. He left the village to return and the next day the empty boat was found together with his coat and a bottle nearly filled with alcohol.” His body was found nearly a month later on a sandy beach about a mile and a half south of Schroon Lake Village.

William Brandies, a waiter at the Leland house was drowned in Schroon Lake in July 1920. Brandies had gone out in a canoe and not returned; the empty boat and his body were recovered later. He was about 35 years old and had lost two brothers in World War One.

In July of 1924, Esmond Smith of Adirondack (on the east side of Schroon Lake) and David Middleton loaded a quantity of tile and brick into a flat bottom boat with a small motor. They set out in rough waters to a cottage a few miles distant from Adirondack but were soon swamped. Middleton, 70, swam to shore, but Smith, 40, apparently could not swim and drowned.

In July of 1928, two employees of Scaroon Manor were drowned when one, Erma Treppow, 22, of Brooklyn, slipped off a submerged ledge into deep water. She could not swim so Edward Maggiogino of Long Island jumped in to save her. Treppow panicked and grabbed her would-be rescuer, dragging them both under while two other women watched helplessly from shore.

In September of 1929, Edwin Buchman, a wealthy Troy manufacturer and a summer resident of Schroon Lake, was believed to have had a heart attack or stroke and to have fallen into Schroon Lake near the former O’Neill property which he owned. He had planned to take a swim before breakfast but never returned. His body was found in shallow water.

In October of 1929, Fred McKee of Pottersville, Elmer Liberty of Olmsteadville, and Angus Montayne of Schenectady were transported a 50-gallon drum of gasoline in their motorboat from Charles Bogle’s boathouse to Isola Bella Island on Schroon Lake. The lake was rough and when the motor stalled the barrel rolled forward and capsized the boat throwing all three men into the water. McKee and Montayne, who could not swim, attempted to hold onto the barrel. They soon disappeared as Elmer Liberty watched; he survived by clinging to the overturned boat. Forty men, under the supervision of John Flannigan, began dragging the lake for the bodies. They were recovered the same day.

In June 1933, Brooklyn newlyweds Louis and Elsie Gerber left their honeymoon digs at Moon Hill Camp on Schroon Lake in a canoe with Mrs. Robert Epstein of the Bronx. They got about 150 feet from shore when the canoe capsized. A man driving by saw the three clinging to the sides of the canoe, stopped his car, and rowed out to them in a rowboat. According to the Ticonderoga Sentinel, Louis Gerber told the man that he alright and to take the women ashore first – when the men returned Louis was gone. “A searching party was quickly organized,” the Sentinel reported, “but it was not until evening that the body was recovered. The body was taken to Brooklyn by the broken-hearted bride whose honeymoon was so tragically ended.”

Just one month later, in July of 1933, Paulding Foote Sellers, recent graduate of Hamilton College and captain of the college’s football team (and nephew of Admiral David Foote Sellers, died after diving into Schroon Lake – “he sank without a struggle.” It was surmised by the local coroner that he “had a weak heart.”

Parry Lee Shivers, 25, an African American maid, was drowned in Schroon Lake in August of 1937. Shivers was in a boat with another African American maid, 18-year-old Carrie William who later told a newspaper what had happened: “She spoke to Miss Shivers as they were returning to the shore, and there was no response. She turned and was amazed to discover that her friend was not in the boat. Hastily scanning the water in the vicinity of the boat, she saw Miss Shivers swimming about sixty feet away. According to her story, she called to her, but gained no response. A few seconds later Miss Shivers sank beneath the surface and failed to reappear.”

In 1926, a thirteen-year-old George Plumley of Minerva fell from a dock and drowned. In 1938, an eight-year old Schenectady boy, Robert Crossman, was drowned near his parent’s camp opposite Moon Hill Camp. His eleven-year-old sister found his body; he had been last seen just a few minutes before on the camp dock but failed to show for lunch.

In June of 1940 Louis Kankewitz, 30, of New York City was drowned when the canoe he was paddling alone capsized near Eagle Point. He and his new bride were staying at Moon Hill Camp – it took a week to find his body.

Another Brooklynite drowned in July of 1944. Melvin Leon, 16, had jumped into the water at the Leland Hotel’s beach to save George Solow, 17 (also of Brooklyn). The boys were employed at the Little Club, They had been fooling around in a row boat when Solow jumped into the water with the oars; when he lost the oars and couldn’t get back into the boat, Leon jumped in to help him. A third young man in the boat tried in vain to paddle the boat against the wind with his hands. Another boater eventually rescued Solow, but it was too late for Leon.

Almost one year to the day, another young man employed by the Little Club drowned while trying to retrieve an errant boat. Schroon Lake native Glenn Cramer, 16, went out towards Keppler’s Point when his own rowboat overturned; he could not swim. A passerby yelled to him to hold onto the overturned boat but Cramer panicked and was gone by the time his would-be rescuer arrived.


John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John’s Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




2 Responses

  1. Scott A. Surovell says:
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