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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lake Safety Feature Never Installed

While resarching for my book, Images of America: Rock Springs Park, I became obsessed with finding out what was written on the big white sign on the island (pictured above). At the last minute, my friend, Dick Bowker, found a postcard picture at the Three Rivers Postcard Club and let me scan it. The scan was clear enough that I could zoom in and read the sign. See what it says in my book on page 38.

In the Winter 1985 Edition of West Virginia’s Goldenseal Magazine, Susan Weaver wrote in her wonderful article “Rock Springs Park: A Panhandle Playground” that originally the lake in the park, constructed under the ownership of C.A. Smith at a cost of $50,000 in 1900, was to be no deeper than three feet at any point. “The plans required a lattice work to be installed in any deeper spot.” Weaver goes on to conclude, “Nonetheless, there were several drownings, suggesting that the lattice was never constructed.”

I provided an account of a drowning in the pool at Rock Springs Park in a blog post dated March 26, 2011. In it, I retold the drowning of Fred Schoen, “Schoen, aged 20 years, was drowned while swimming in the pool at Rock Springs Park. Schoen ventured into the deep section of the pool and when last seen was sitting on the sidewalk. Apparently his body had been submerged at least 15 minutes before he was discovered missing.” But I had not come across any drowning stories that took place in the lake.

However, this story from The Pittsburgh Press - August 6, 1908 entitled, “Oakdale Couple Nearly Drowned,” dramatically illustrates Weaver’s assumption that Smith’s 3-foot safety barrier was never installed as planned.

The Pittsburgh Press - August 6, 1908

Oakdale Couple Nearly Drowned

Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Fox, of Oakdale, had a narrow escape from drowning, yesterday, in the lake at Rock Springs Park, W.Va. He is a well-known real estate agent at Oakdale and, along with his wife, was participating in the Union picnic from Oakdale.

In the afternoon the couple was bathing in the lake, when Mrs. Fox was seized with cramps and called for assistance. Her husband responded, but when he reached her she caught hold of him and he was powerless to swim and both sank. As they were going down for the second time, they were noticed by Frank Lillo, lumber dealer, Oakdale, who went to their assistance and brought both to shore.

On touching land again, Mrs. Fox fainted. After some time, however, she was revived and both returned to their home last evening.

Although he doesn’t give a full accounting, another of my favorite sources, Roy C. Cashdollar, stated in his book, The History of Chester: The Gateway to the West, that there was a record of six deaths during the existence of Rock Springs Park. “There were four in the old mill, one on the swings, and one on the Cyclone.” He also mentioned “two drownings (in the lake) and several near drownings in the park pool.”

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