Four Others Escape By Swimming to Shore
Construction of NYA Building on Rt. 7 (Russett Rd.)
Victims Were Returning From Work in Stone Quarry
On NYA Recreation Center
Project When Boat Capsizes and Sinks
In one of the most tragic accidents in the history of Calhoun county, four young men employed by the National Youth Administration in the construction of a county recreational center, on the Little Kanawha river, about a mile and a half above Grantsville, were drowned Monday afternoon while crossing from a quarry on the north side of the river to the camp site.
Tracy Allen, 22, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fielding Allen, of Daniels Run.
John W. Bowers, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Bowers, of lower Yellow Creek.
Cecil Truman, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Barney Truman, of Oka.
The unfortunate youths, together with a number of others about the same age, had been working in a stone quarry on the north side of the Little Kanawha river. At quitting time the four drowned boys and four others started across the river in a large boat 18 feet long, 5 feet wide at the ends and 6 feet in the middle, with gunwales 11 inches wide. The boat was propelled by one man pulling on a wire cable stretched from one bank of the river to the other.
In some manner that is not yet clear to even those who witnessed the accident, the boat capsized throwing all eight boys into the river which was swollen to a depth of about eighteen feet at the crossing.
Four of the young men were able to swim to shore safely. Those saving themselves were Francis Wright, 18, of Leatherbark; Glenn Starcher, 21, of Rocksdale; Kenneth Johnson, 18, of Grantsville, and Willard Richards, 19, of near Brooksville. Young Johnson, a graduate of the local high school and good swimmer, reached the bank first and then went back and gave aid to the Starcher boy who was clinging to a willow and partially exhausted.
In a short time the news of the dreadful accident had spread over the county and dozens of men started to search for the victims. All available boats in the community were brought to the scene fo the tragedy. Manned by skillful and earnest workers armed with grappling hooks, the boats started searching for the bodies within a short time after the young workers disappeared under the surface of the river. Their efforts continued throughout the night until thick fog blanketed the river.
But it was not until Tuesday morning at 10:30 that the first body was found by Harold Marshall and Asher Stockwell about 400 feet down river form the scene of the accident. It was that of John W. Bowers. Later in the day the bodies of young Truman and McCune were recovered near the mouth of Bull River, a good quarter of a mile below the crossing. Both were found close together. Sgt. Carl Marshall, of the Charleston branch of the state police was in charge of the boat which found the two boys.
Wednesday morning the fourth and remaining body, that of Tracy Allen was found on the south side of the river, nearly opposite where the first was recovered.
As the bodies were recovered they were brought to the Stump funeral home in Grantsville and prepared for burial. An inquest was held by a coroner's jury which fixed the cause of death as accidental drowning. The jury empanelled by Coroner Gerald Stump was composed of I. H. Snider, J. M. Freshour, C. H. Shanks, W. T. Webster, John Grim and Roy Morrison.
Funeral services were held for young Bowers Wednesday morning from his home and burial was in Kight cemetery. The bodies of young McCune and Truman were laid to rest today in their home cemeteries, and young Allen will be be buried Friday afternoon in Sturms cemetery.
About 30 young men ranging in age from 18 to 25 years are employed in the construction of the county recreational center. At the present time most of them are engaged in quarrying stone on the north side of the Little Kanawha river nearly opposite the site of the building project. The workers report at the beginning of the day's work to the NYA office on the south side of the river and are ferried across the river to the quarry site. At the quitting hour they are returned to the south side in the same manner.
No stone is hauled on the workers' ferry. Stone is transferred from the quarry to the building site on a platform or car which is attached to a heavy steel cable and which runs to the south side of the river by gravity, the south end of the line being lower than the north. Nothing except a few small hand tools were carried on the passenger ferry.
As is always the case when a lamentable catastrophe happens in a community there are always ill-founded stories scattered abroad as to its cause.
In the drowning of four fine young men of the county at the NYA recreational center project Monday afternoon, general and best sentiment is that the tragedy was purely accidental and unavoidable. No blame attaches to any of the boys in the boat.
The boat was sufficiently larger for twice the number of boys it carried.
No load of stone was carried that day or any other day in the boat. A few stone wedges and points were being carried back to the smithy for sharpening.
The boys were engaged in no horse-play or rollicking.
The accident was simply one of those unfortunate things that occur every once in a while in such a manner that no one can be charged with responsibility.
But from such accidents lessons may be learned. We doubt if the boat will be used again by the NYA organization to transfer young men across the river unless it is in charge of an experienced riverman. We will be greatly surprised and disappointed if seats for the passengers on the boat are not provided, and if the passengers are not required to ride under strict rules.
We say there is no individual on whom the finger of blame may be laid for Monday's tragedy. With greater emphasis we likewise say that unless rules are laid down and enforced for traffic of boys to and from the quarry, it were better that the stones for the walls of the recreational center were hung like millstones about the necks of those in charge of the work.
The Calhoun Chronicle, June 16, 1938