Monday, February 28, 2011

Raging Waters

We have had several days and nights of rainy weather.  The temperatures are warm, ideal for thunderstorms.
The booming of thunder has awakened us at night.  The rain pounds at the landscape, then tapers to a drizzle. The photo above was taken by J. at 11 a.m. today [Monday] and shows the swollen bend of Big Creek which loops below our house.
Driving out Old Gradyville Road at noon we noted the waters of the creek surging level with the banks already covered in fresh green grass.  It is not difficult to imagine the even greater force of  the flash flood which swept away homes and their inhabitants in this neighborhood just over a century ago.
Long-time area residents still speak of that flood as though it had happened a mere decade or two ago.

Sensible folks stay at home on wet days and find rainy day things to do.
Instead of being sensible we decided to search out a number of homes listed for sale at the other side of the county. We encountered several scenes such as this--here Sulpher Creek is surging over the road.
We had to make several detours, exploring unfamiliar side roads which plunge down into the "hollers" and then climb along the ridges.
Seeing these ordinarily peaceful creeks in spate we can understand better the tragic accident which claimed the lives of four Amish children in the north-western part of the state on Thursday evening.
This is one of the many reports of that accident, if you care to read about it.

The loss of these Amish children has brought to mind a tragedy which happened nearly a century ago in the upstate New York area where my Mother's family have  lived for over 200 years.
I remember a visit from Aunt Belle when I was a very little girl. We were still living in my grandfather's farm house before my parents built our own little house just along the road.
Aunt Belle was sister to great-grandmother Eliza, the beloved lady [actually step-grandmother] who had raised my great-grandfather's three children as well as bringing up my mother and her brother.
Aunt Belle was prettier than Grandma Eliza, a plump, comfortable looking woman with soft white hair.
It was decades after this visit  that my Mother told me  Aunt Belle and her husband Leroy had lost three children who drowned in the brook which ran through their propery.  This happened some years before my mother's birth and I think it was not much mentioned.
My cousin Barb found the clipping which tells the tale, tucked in her grandmother's scrapbook.
She kindly transcribed it for me and I include it here--a somber piece of family history.
Aunt Belle became the 2nd wife of LeRoy Fleming and was 22 years younger than he.
Aunt Belle gave birth to two more sons in the years that followed the drowning of her boys.
LeRoy was by then in his mid-60's and passed away at age 73, leaving Belle to bring up these younger sons.
She supported them by working as a cook and housekeeper in some of the "summer homes" and "camps" of the well-to-do who could afford leisure homes in the Adirondacks.
When WWII came, the younger sons enlisted and Aunt Belle came to the Vermont farm to stay with Grandmother Eliza.

Drowning of the Three Fleming Boys circa 1913


Three little tots meet death in Ticonderoga stream while going after a cow.

One of the saddest tragedies that Ti has ever known and one that cast a pall over the entire community, making hearts throb with sympathy for the grief-stricken parents, occurred shortly after 5 o'clock Saturday afternoon, when 3 little boys, the only children of Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Fleming, living in the Weedville section of the village, were drowned in Trout Brook. The victims of the horrible tragedy were little more than tots, the oldest boy, Kenneth, being but 9 years of age and the other two, Robert and Louis, being 8 and 7 respectively.

The drowning occurred about a quarter of a mile from the boys’ home. The little fellows were sent to the Trout Brook pasture after a cow. When they did not return to their home in half an hour their mother became alarmed and went to the pasture after them, suspecting all the while that they might be at the bottom of the sluggish Trout Brook.

She hastened directly to a footbridge, made of three logs across which boards are nailed, that crosses the brook. One can have but an inkling of her horror and agony when she saw the body of one of her little ones at the bottom of the brook near the bridge. In some way, given strength by desperation, she managed to get the body out on the bank and in the meantime her agonized cries brought people running to the brook. The bodies of the 2 other little boys were found near the first and were soon laid side by side on the grass.

Nurses came from the Moses Ludington hospital, only a short distance from and within sight of the scene of the drowning, and with Dr. Knapp, who came from the village, immediately began using the usual methods of resuscitation. They worked desperately for nearly an hour before giving up the hope of bringing back the sparks of life. Then the little bodies were tenderly picked up and carried to the home of their heart broken parents.

While nobody knows exactly how the accident happened it is generally believed that, after driving the cow across the brook, the little fellows started over the footbridge and that one of them fell into the brook. The other 2, all three inseparable companions, it is thought, immediately jumped in after their brother and their attempts at rescue resulted in all three going to a watery grave. The brook at this spot is of just about sufficient depth to drown boys of their size. The funeral services were held at the home at 8 o'clock Monday evening with Rev. Torrance, pastor of the Methodist church, officiating. Many friends and neighbors flocked to the home before and after the funeral to offer consolation to the broken hearted parents, who bear bravely their great grief, and many testimonials of sympathy were offered in the form of floral contributions, one beautiful piece in particular coming from the Boy Scouts of Troup 1. To say that all of Weedville is in mourning is putting it lightly. The 3 boys, manly, bright little fellows, were loved by all and their absence will be sorely felt for many a day in the neighborhood of the afflicted and now childless home.

The 3 bodies were taken to Hague Tuesday morning for interment, services being held at the grave by Rev. Mr. Dow of that village.


  1. Sad family history. I also read about the 4 Amish children but didn't realize they were from near your location.

  2. What a sad story about your ancestors and of the Amish children.
    My heart and prayers go out to those left behind.


  3. What a sad story. The power of water scares me. Last year I police officer was swept away trying to stop stupid motorists who were ignoring a flooded bridge sign.

  4. Oh how sad, both for the Amish children and their families, and for your ancestors too MM. The power of water should never be underestimated.

  5. Very sad to hear about your family's historical tragedy and your Amish neighbors' recent tragedy...i just can't imagine how devastating it must be for the parents to lose not one but three tiny beloved children all at once. I hope J is wary of the waters and doesn't feel tempted to try to drive Snortin' Norton through something he shouldn't!

    We got about an inch and a half of rain and a tiny burst of thunder (ancient Iroquois lore says it's now safe to plant...we'll see...), temperatures briefly near 70 and back down to freezing last night. No greening here yet but the maple buds are swelling and the daffodil leaves are coming up.

  6. What a very sad story about your Aunt Belle - dreadful to lose one child but three! An equally sad story about the Amish chuldren as well. Water is a very powerful element and many people (adults that is) lose their lives because they don't realise this.

  7. What a heart wrenching account ... one can only try o imagine the pain of her grief...even worse for finding them and having that image in her head,

    The recent death of the Amish chldren is beyond words ..their comunity will offer solace to the family I hope ...the scene was horrific

  8. I read your story about the Fleming boys and realized we are related. LeRoy was my great-grandfather, and his son Howard (one of the two sons they had after the accident)was my grandfather. I would really love to know more about "our" family tree. My mother told the story and has the actual newspaper clipping also.

  9. Karen: You should be able to email me from my profile page. [If that doesn't work, leave me a comment.]
    I have at least one good photo of Leroy Fleming taken with my g-grandfather Eddie Ross--they were brothers-in-law.
    I have some information on the Bartlett family and some good sources in Warren County.
    I'd be happy to share.
    This is exciting!