Milltown History

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On Feb. 17,1924 my Dad was ice skating at Lawrence brook when he observed a number of people had fallen through the ice. He immediately set out to save as many of them as he could.

Following is a news clipping of the event

 

A year later he received the Ralston Hero medal for his efforts. Following is a copy of the newspaper article recording the events.

 

I found a copy of a letter that my Dad sent to the New York Evening Journal in 1935 regarding the event for which he received the Ralston Purina Hero award. My Dad had never really talked to me about his heroism, but I recall seeing the medal he had received from Ralston Purina. I have been unable to find the medal amongst my mother’s collections. I emailed Ralston Purina to see if they have any information in their files, but learned that the old files were no longer archived.

 

Following is a copy the letter Dad wrote in 1935 regarding his heroic act:

 

Milltown N.J.

March 1, 1935.

 

 

 

Mr. Floyd Gibbons,

New York City.

 

 

Dear Mr. Gibbons,

 

I hove been reading daily, with much interest, your Thrill and Mystery column in the New York Evening Journal, with the result, that I find myself beginning this resume of the most thrilling and I might safely say, horrible experience, that I have ever had. In comparison to some of those that you have already chronicled, this event no doubt will lack some of the thrills, that you have managed to depict in your column, but to me it proved a harrowing experience, in which my only regrets were, the loss of the lives of a boy and a girl and that I was not possessed, with the power to do just a little bit more than my best,

 

As much as writing in the first person, concerning an incident such as this, is distasteful to me, I find that it is necessary, to do so in order to properly convey, a true picture, of what actually occurred, on that memorable February day in 1924. It is my earnest hope, therefore, that you will not consider this letter or any part thereof, as an attempt at braggadocio, or solicitous of any expression of commendation. I give it to you, for entrance in your contest, and for whatever else it is worth with the hope that you will, in one of your columns, find it possible to emphasize the warning, which a tragedy of this nature so graphically sounds, particularly at this season of the year, when such occurrences are generally common.

 

On Sunday afternoon, February 17, 1924, I decided, regardless of my Mother’s admonitions, (and she was always out of sympathy, with such amusements on the Sabbath), that I would like to go ice skating, knowing full well at the time that the ice was hardly safe enough or thick enough to bear a man’s weight, but as though guided by a premonition of danger, I cast aside my better judgment and went anyway.

 

Near my home there is a stream known as Lawrence Brook and to this I hied. Even in the coldest of weather the ice on this stream, due to the swiftness of the current, is hardly ever completely safe, so being familiar with the most treacherous spots, I was more than usually careful, on this fateful day, Particularly since the weather for the past week, had been only moderately cold.

 

After donning my skates and having proceeded about a quarter of a mile downstream, I came to a bend in the brook, where I knew the water to be fifteen feet in depth, the current very swift and always a treacherous spot. There were about twenty five or thirty other persons, skating in this vicinity and while chatting, with one of them, I happened to notice, two girls, two small boys and four men coming up stream in a group and approaching dangerously near to the bend, where I knew the ice would not hold. I shouted a warning, but too late, for the ice suddenly gave way and seven of them were hopelessly floundering around in the frigid water; one girl who was slightly detached from the test of the group and having stopped in time, managed to escape. Immediately pandemonium broke loose, but as is usually the case, when tragedy is imminent, everyone stood transfixed, as it were and as if stricken with the ague, powerless of comprehensive thought or motion.

 

Realizing that unless something was done immediately, seven lives would be lost, a long chance plan formulated itself in my mind and I proceeded without second thought, to put it into execution single-handed. Such was the position of the group in the water that, it was necessary, in order to reach them to successfully negotiate a leap, over six feet of open water. This I accomplished by getting about a one hundred foot start and diving head first, to land on my stomach, on the ice, on the other side. Proceeding to the shore and with what must have been, as I reconstruct the details, a superhuman strength augmented by the tragedy at hand, I managed to break off a sapling as thick as my wrist. With this, as the only instrument of rescue, I crept out to the edge of the hole and lying full length, with my skates as anchors, thrust the sapling out to an eagerly waiting hand and in this way managed to get hold of the clothes of the first victim and pull him successfully up on the ice, which bent like rubber under the additional weight and causing the water to nearly cover us. Had the ice, on which I was lying, failed to hold at this time, eight lives would surely have been lost instead of two.

 

In this same manner I managed to drag five of the seven to safety but I distinctly remember one little boy, about seven years old, who was going down for the last time and was completely submerged, except for one arm, and who subconsciously took hold of the stick, in a vice like grip, when I thrust it under his little hand. Another was already submerged about a foot and going down for the last time, but being close enough, I managed to reach down into the water and drag him, in an unconscious condition to safety. These two especially are haunting memories to me, as both bore the purple and bloated appearance of the drowned.

 

By this time the stillness of death had settled over the scene, for the unfortunate boy and girl had disappeared below the surface of the water, nevermore to skate again The boy, who was the only support of his widowed mother, was an excellent swimmer and no doubt would have been saved, but instead he sacrificed his life, in a gallant but vain attempt to save his friend.

 

Realizing that nothing more could be done for these two unfortunate youths and noting that the last victim taken from the water had not as yet regained consciousness, nor had any of the by-standers made any effort to assist, I now turned my attention to him and employing the knowledge of resuscitation, that I had acquired, while a member of our local boy scout troop, he shortly responded, to artificial respiration. At this point, I might say that, had any assistance been given, by those ether twenty-five or thirty, there Was a good possibility of saving the lives of all seven.

 

The next day our local paper, The New Brunswick Daily Home News, chronicled the story under glaring headlines of about seventy-five point Bordoni. I read of it in the New York papers and in June of the same year, while visiting with an aunt in Oakland Calif., was very much surprised and pleased, when she showed me a clipping of the story, that she had taken from a San Francisco paper.

 

My most prized possession, however, is a letter and a medal, which I received from the Ralston Purina Hero Commission of St. Louis Mo., and which bears the inscription; “Hero Medal Awarded To James V. Selover, February 17, 1924, For Service To Others.” I was nineteen years of age at the time.

 

There it is Mr. Gibbons, a true account in every detail and I thank you for your indulgence

 

 

 

Very truly your

 

 

 

James V. Selover,

134 No Main St.,

Milltown N.J..

 

 

 

Views: 106

Comment by Barbara Wright on January 30, 2016 at 6:49pm
Great story James! The Selover family is still involved in Scouts and on our volunteer Rescue Squad and will love to hear of your father's heroism.

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