Thursday, December 8, 2016

Holiday Skating Tragedy, 1920

The holiday season is a time of joy but can also be difficult if you've lost a loved one. One particular loss had to be extremely tough for my Steimer branch to overcome and, since it happened so close to Christmas, most likely affected their holidays for many, many years.

Photograph from The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pa.),
December 27, 1920
Vincent Steimer was probably a typical 10-year-old. His Christmas in 1920 had to have been full of excitement, presents, and family. Once the big day was over, my 2nd cousin three times removed decided to spend time outdoors with his friends. The day was cloudy and cold with the temperature in the 20s, but I'm sure the group of boys thought it was perfect for having fun.

According to this 1920 newspaper story published in The Pittsburgh Post on December 27th, two boys died that day:

     "Two boys were drowned, and two others, apparently dead, were resuscitated by prompt medical aid after being rescued by a man who risked his own life when a portion of the ice on Chartiers creek, near the plant of the Superior Steel Corporation, Carnegie, gave way yesterday afternoon.
     In trying to rescue the boys, Thomas Hall, 10 years old, of Logan and Cubbage streets, Carnegie, also fell into the water, but managed to get to shore safely.
Vincent Steimer, 9 years old [actual age was 10], of 711 Logan street, Carnegie.
Richard Joyce, 9 years old, of Logan and Cubbage streets, Carnegie.
John Walnosky, 10 years old, of 28 Bank street, Carnegie.
Leo Walnosky, 7 years old, brother of John Walnosky.

     The five boys went to the creek to skate shortly after noon and at 12:30 o'clock all were struggling in the water. According to the police, the ice gave way when the boys were about 10 feet from the shore. Young Hall was able to scramble from the water and ran to summon aid.
     H.C. Dodds, a druggist, of Oakdale, and Homer Moore, also of Oakdale, were riding in the Noblestown road when Dodds discovered the boys struggling in the water and crying for help. Operating his machine at fast speed he drove as near the creek as he could, and, leaping from the automobile, dashed across the Panhandle railroad tracks and jumped into the water.
     Moore followed, but remained on the shore. Dodds lifted the Walnosky brothers from the water and placed them on the ice. Assisted by Moore, both boys were carried to the automobile and rushed to the office of Dr. James A. Hamma, 408 Chartiers avenue, Carnegie, one-half mile away.
     Dodds stated that he believed both boys were dead, but hurried them to the office of Hamma.
     Although he believed each boy was dead, Dr. Hamma sent a call for aid to Dr. F. E. Herriott, of 412 Chartiers avenue, Carnegie, and also for the pulmotor at the power house of the Duquesne Light Company, in Railroad street, Carnegie.
     Assisted by Harry Schaffer, of Carnegie, the Shafter method of resuscitation was used until the pulmotor arrived.
     Dr. Herriott was on the scene in a short time and while one physician worked with the pulmotor on one boy, the other used the Shafter method. Previous to the using of the pulmotor, Rev. L. McCrory, pastor of St. Luke's Catholic Church of Carnegie, administered the last rites of the church to the boys.
     After working with the boys more than 30 minutes, the physicians restored them to consciousness. An hour later both were able to go to their homes.
     Dr. Hamma said that Joyce and Steimer probably disappeared below the ice after falling into the creek while the two Walnosky boys reappeared on the surface and were rescued.
     The bodies of Joyce and Steimer were recovered about one hour after the accident by Carnegie police, Watchman John Keil of the Superior Steel Corporation plant; James McCaffery, George Ebner and Orrin Baux, all of Carnegie who went to the creek after learning of the accident.
     Dodds said he did not see the Steimer or Joyce boys."

Discovering a family story like this one reminds us to cherish those in our lives today. You never know how much time you have with them.


  1. How very sad! But, I'm also amazed at the story of the boys who did survive. And, I'm wanting to learn more about the Shafter method and the pulmotor. And, I'm amazed they were able to be resuscitated after so long, though I guess that sometimes happens when internal organs have been slowed down through extremely cold temperatures.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dana! I thought it was interesting that the pulmotor came from the electric company. But the same thing was mentioned in other stories across the country, like one that said the doctor "sent for the electric light company's pulmotor." Apparently fire houses, police, and hospitals eventually purchased the machine, but electric companies were the first to provide it to the public. Very interesting! It's wonderful that it saved the Walnosky brothers. I hope they had wonderful lives (I just might do some digging to find out!)


Do you have a genealogy problem or need guidance on where to search next? Send me a message if you'd like me to help!