My great uncle George Pease Witherbee died 110 years ago yesterday, Aug 28, 1893.
In the Summer of 1893 George Pease Witherbee, brother of my Grandmother Jessie Witherbee Knowlton and a resident of Port Henry, NY, died in a drowning accident. He was trying to save six young boys who had fallen off his capsized boat, the "Alpha," on Lake Champlain "off Elm Point on (the) Vermont Shore."
Witherbee, age 22, attempted to save the lives of Willie Breadner, Eddie Joubert, John Whitman, William Gildea, Joseph La Barge and Albert Brush. LaBarge was the only survivor.
The recent Cornell University graduate was a Big Man On Campus there, deeply involved with its Crew and the College yearbook. In later years a locker room was named after him in one of the college's gymnasiums.
The Sept. 7, 1893 Essex County (NY) Republican devoted its entire front page to the tragedy. It included this poem, written by William Ball Wright:
THE WRECK OF THE 'ALPHA,' AUGUST 28, 1893"
Oh, bright was the lake and the sky was blue,
And merrily onward the Alpha flew,
When Witherbee and his little crew
Sailed out on that August morning.
Whitman and Gildea stout were there,
Will Breadner and Joubert, slim and fair,
LaBarge and Brush, the youngest pair--
Was there none to give them warning?
Onward they sped in youthful glee,
Past camp and shore, from peril free,
'till the fresh wind drove them hastily
Away to their billowy grave.
To Elm Point as they cruised along,
A watcher looked forth at the yachtsmen strong.
But the breeze was stiff and the gear went wrong,
And the boat rolled o'er in the wave.
Down, down to the depths of the waters blue,
Sternforemost sank she with all her crew,
'till the watcher caught nought but the masthead view.
And he feared for each brave young life.
Then he cries for help, and goes back once more
And looks eagerly out on the farther shore;
But one form was seen, when the wreck was o'er
To escape from the surge's strife.
Now swift through Port Henry flashed deep dismay.
"George Witherbee's drowned with his comrades gay."
No house, but weeping was there that day,
For that bereavement sore.
Thou art gone, our friend, in thy strong young day,
To thy God who gave life to thy form of clay,
And the boys thou didst love are all away,
Where "the sea shall be no more."
But sooth may we say, thou didst not flee
Wherever a life could be saved by thee,
Thou didst try to help, though no help could be,
And thy life was given for others.
The bells are tolling, the dirge is said,
The village is mourning its youthful dead,
Ah! Woe is me; how the joy has fled
For their fathers and their mothers.
Yet the deep seems to echo a voice and a sigh,
"Lord hear and save" it seems to cry,
And back from the heaven comes the kind reply,
"In the waters I'll be with thee."
Oh Lord of our life though thy way appear,
To be passing strange, and we shrink in fear,
Yet beyond, we shall have it all made clear,
And praise Thee eternally.
--written Aug. 31, 1892.