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A look back at water tragedies

In the summer just past – and September felt like it was midsummer – many people enjoyed pleasurable days and hours on or in one or more of the rivers, lakes, springs and swimming pools to be found in the beautiful Tennessee Valley. 

From time to time, however, waterways prove to be deadly to some unfortunates, despite the efforts they and their companions thought they were making to be careful. Water-related tragedies can occur at any season of the year.

  • Nov. 1, 1876—David H. Echols, a railroad man and a brother of prominent Huntsville businessman William H. Echols, has drowned in the Yazoo River in Mississippi while on a hunting tour.
  • June 1, 1848—Charles Cross, father of Mary Ann Cross, wife of General John R. Coffey of Fackler, Jackson County, drowned in the Tennessee River.
  • October 20, 1892—Wash Hughes drowned in the Tennessee River at Decatur yesterday.
  • April 17, 1896—J. W. Lynch, while attempting to cross a swollen stream near Decatur one day last week, was drowned.  One of his horses was drowned, also, and the other was with much difficulty rescued.
  • May 26, 1903—Mrs. Masterson, a widow with strong Hartselle connections through her late husband, lost her life on an excursion on the Tennessee River near Decatur yesterday by stubbing her foot and falling into the river. She was drowned before she could be reached. 

The excursion was being run by the Rev. Mr. Rhone of New Decatur, and the boat was delayed several hours on account of having hung up on the rocks near Muscle Shoals. Mrs. Masterson was walking on the lower deck in the dark when she stubbed her foot and fell into the water. At the time a gentleman and lady were with her, but they could do nothing to prevent her from falling.

When Mrs. Masterson fell, her lady companion came near to jumping into the river after her and was only prevented by the man who was with them. It was rumored Mrs. Masterson committed suicide, and still another tale said she was pushed off the boat, but neither of these stories could be substantiated.

  • June 12, 1904—At an early hour today Sam Davis, an old man who resided on the northern bank of the Tennessee River opposite Decatur, was walking the river bridge into Decatur when he fell from the bridge and drowned. When he was nearly on the Decatur side of the bridge, a freight train met him, and he stepped to one side to let the train pass. In doing so, he got too close to the edge of the bridge, and his foot slipped. He fell over into 20 feet of water and was soon lost to sight.
  • Dec. 19, 1906—A man who was employed on one of Capt. J. N. Rike’s steamers on the Tennessee River was drowned yesterday near Bridgeport and was buried there. In some way the man fell into the river and was swimming by the side of the steamer. A pole was thrown out to him, and he held on for a while. However, he let go after holding for a short time and sank to the bottom. If he had held on for just a little longer, he could have been saved easily. It seemed to onlookers that he wanted to die.
  • Sept. 3, 1911—Walter Freeman, a young man who was teaching a school near the Lacon community, was drowned in Flint Creek yesterday. 
  • Feb. 25, 1918—Price Ellis, the 18-month-old son of Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Ellis, was buried at Johnson’s Chapel Cemetery this afternoon following his death due to drowning while playing in a small branch that ran close to the Ellis home. 
  • June 24, 1919—Just 10 days after his escape from the state penitentiary where he was serving a sentence for the robbery of a store of the late Samuel Spielberger, Archie Lamon was drowned in a stream near Tom Hall, Texas. The body was brought to Decatur and interred in the Dancy Chapel graveyard yesterday.

Lamon’s case was one of the most interesting on record in this area. Prior to the time of his downfall, he was a highly respected merchant of West Decatur and had many friends. Then something “snapped,” and he began a career of crime that landed him in prison more than once. However, his intellect was so keen that no bars could restrain him. Once he escaped by jumping from a Louisville and Nashville train, while en route to prison in the custody of Deputy Sheriff Floyd Jacobs. He sustained serious injuries from the fall, and identification was made easier by scars he wore for the remainder of his life. Again, after he had been arrested in Nashville for the Spielberger robbery, he took French leave of the Morgan County jail.

  • July 14, 1998—Former Hartselle Democratic state Sen. Gary Aldridge, 46, drowned as a result of a weekend rafting accident in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. He was in a party of nine floating down the American Creek when low-hanging branches apparently flipped the raft he was in. His body was recovered by a park ranger from a small island in the river. After legislative service from 1982-1986, Mr. Aldridge had moved his law practice to Birmingham.