By KELLY SULLIVAN Nearly 200 people gathered around Pawtuxet Falls, screaming, crying, fainting. It was the afternoon of Dec. 21, 1907, and they would all see something that day which they would never be able to erase from their minds.
Nearly 200 people gathered around Pawtuxet Falls, screaming, crying, fainting. It was the afternoon of Dec. 21, 1907, and they would all see something that day which they would never be able to erase from their minds.
Twenty-two-year-old Albert Henry Jackson of East Providence was a member of the Pawtuxet Canoe Club. That morning, he had visited the clubhouse with his 19-year-old brother, Arthur Edward Jackson, and his friend Earl Penhurst Mathewson, who was also 19.
Albert and Arthur were the sons of Hannah (Clayton), a cotton weaver, and Henry Jackson, who had died 12 years earlier at the age of 47. The boys had a 25-year-old sister Ella and a brother George who they had lost in 1896 at the age of 22.
The three boys decided to take out a canoe that winter afternoon and began paddling slowly downstream. As they approached the Pawtuxet Falls, they allowed the boat to drift a little too close to the edge and, caught in the current, it was pulled over.
The boys were catapulted from the smashed-up canoe and began to yell for help as they floated in the icy river. Some men on a nearby street heard their cries and rushed to the scene, where they saw Earl being carried down the rapids. One of the men ran to the bridge and threw a rope down, which the boy caught and was pulled to safety by.
Albert had made it onto a flat rock which was submerged in the water just under the falls. Standing there, waist-deep in the river, he was periodically engulfed in the rush of water that poured down. Arthur was suddenly washed up against the rock and Albert grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. He held his younger brother in his arms for the next hour, supporting all the weight of the exhausted boy as the falls pounded down upon them.
A large crowd was now gathering and a rope was thrown out to the brothers. Albert grabbed it and wrapped it around Arthur’s body, under his arms. Once it was secured, it took the force of about 50 men on shore to pull Arthur to safety.
A rope was then repeatedly thrown out to Albert and he struggled to catch it but, each time, it was blown out of his reach. Finally, he managed to grab the end and a thunderous cheer rose from the crowd. He shakily tried to encircle his waist with the rope but he couldn’t move one of his legs. His foot was stuck inside a crevice and he was unable to pull it out.
Albert gave a weary wave to the men on shore and they pulled the rope, thinking he had secured it to himself. However they watched as the rope slipped from his hand and fell into the rushing water.
Several men climbed into small boats, rowed to the rock and attempted to remove Albert. The attempts lasted for half an hour before the men were too frozen and exhausted to continue. The boat of one man capsized and a frantic but successful effort was made to pull him back in.
Seeing the danger of heroism, several onlookers physically restrained men who were determined to jump in and save the young store clerk. Helpless, all they could do was watch Albert finally lose consciousness. Then the sound of earth-shattering screams drowned out the rush of the falls. The water was freezing upon Albert’s body, an 8-foot tall ice sculpture suddenly entombing the young man.
While those on shore screamed, fainted, shivered and prayed, night dawned and it became obvious that all anyone could do, after the three-hour ordeal, was return to their homes. The next morning, a Captain Crandall rowed out to the rock and was able to pull the body from its frozen standing position back to dry land. Albert was buried in Pocasset Cemetery in Cranston. His gravestone is etched with the words “Brave, Patient, True.”
Earl and Arthur were both taken from the falls to Rhode Island Hospital, suffering from exposure. Arthur later married, moved to Los Angeles and became a sound engineer for a movie studio. He enjoyed a long and prosperous existence, thanks to the brother who loved him more than life itself. Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.