Source: Crawfordsville Weekly Journal Friday 6 August 1897
Like a clap of thunder from a clear sky came the news of Tommy Stilwell to the people of this place. The simple announcement of his death came over the telephone Sunday evening. All day Monday we were plied with questions as to his death. For some time he had been coming here on Saturdays and conducting a branch office for Champion’s photograph gallery, and had made a host of friends especially among the young people, and was doing a good business for his employer. For some time we occupied the same room. Although an entire stranger at first, we soon began to look forward to the day that Tommy would be with us, and all were sure to enjoy the day. On last Saturday he was even more than usually full of sociability, and as business was somewhat dull, he detailed to us the pleasures he was anticipating this week, as he was not intending to work but take a trip to his old home on a wheel, and of the pleasure he would have of visiting old scenes. Thus to us it seemed almost impossible that death had come to him, one so full of life, with a pleasant word for all he met and to all appearances with a long and useful life ahead of him. Yet it again reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death, and we, with his hosts of friends here in Darlington, can but join with many others and extend our heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved family in this their sore affliction.
Thomas A. Stilwell, the son of Mayor Stilwell, was drowned Sunday afternoon about three o’clock while bathing at Martin’s dam. The body of the unfortunate young man was quickly recovered but all efforts to resuscitate him failed.
About two o’clock Sunday Tom Stilwell and Floyd Shipp started out on their bicycles for Martin’s dam, it being their intention to go bathing. Tom had a new bicycle and on the Lafayette Pike, which inclines to Sperry’s Bridge the boys speeded finally reaching the dam very hot and dripping with perspiration. What followed was told to the Journal this morning by Floyd Shipp, who gives this account of the accident:
“As soon as we arrived at the dam I threw off my clothes and went down the chute at the ice house to the creek. As I went down Tom said he didn’t believe he would go in but finally said he guessed he would inasmuch as he had come down. Before I went in he called out and protested against my entering the water while I was so very hot, arguing that it was dangerous. I replied that it was all right and jumped in. Although the water was warm it seemed cold as ice to me. I swam across the creek to that little island which was out from the dam and then waded back toward the ice house as far as I could before swimming again. This occupied some minutes and Tom had taken off his clothes and felt that he was cooled enough to come in. When I got back he was paddling along the water near the shore. I was about ready to go out then but he suggested that we both swim out to the island and I agreed at once striking out for the place. I was swimming on my side and didn’t notice Tom. I was nearly over and could easily have waded out when I heard Tom call out “Kid, I don’t believe I can swim any further!” I at once turned around and saw at a glance that he was considerable nearer the ice house shore than the island so I shouted for him to turn around and go back. He said nothing but started to follow my instructions. He had turned half about, perhaps, when I perceived that he had lost control of himself and was in need of help. As quickly as I could I swam out to him. He had gone under once but not to the bottom, the creek being between six and seven feet deep at that place. When I got to him he was paddling feebly with his hands and his head under water part of the time. His face was thrown back and he seemed but partially conscious, making none of those frantic struggles which drowning people are said to make. He said nothing at all and the words he called out to me, when he said he could swim no further, were the last words he ever spoke. I swam up behind him and took him by the arm. I was quite tired by this time and as Tom was very heavy I could make practically no progress with him. He continued to struggle feebly but could not help himself and made no effort to seize me, being apparently oblivious to the situation. He would go under the water and then come up but getting weaker all the time. I called for help but there was no one close by, some fellows on the dam and a number of boys by the furtherest ice house being nearest. I finally caught him by the hair and made a desperate effort to swim out with him but I could not. After this he sank and I managed to swim out. By this time those in view seemed to realize that something serious had occurred and came hurrying to the rescue. Clay Lee and Truitt Maxwell had just come into the water to bathe and they began to dive for him. I called out to one of the boys on the bank to take my bicycle and hurry for a doctor and somebody did this. Young Maxwell in diving found Tom and actually dragged him a few feet on the bottom but being a little lad was not strong enough to lift the heavy body. While he was at work, Malachi Scott and Charley Bogart came in from the dam and Bogart after diving three or four times found the body and by giving it a hard jerk brought it to the surface. He and Scott then swam out with it to the island. We worked with him there attempting to resuscitate him by all the methods employed in such cases but with no success at all. He couldn’t have been in water over five minutes and, perhaps, not quite so long.
I believe that he was struck with heart failure from the very way in which he acted in the water and do not think that he had cramps. A few days ago when we were out wheeling he had trouble with his heart and was obliged to dismount and lie on the ground for some time. When we found we were able to do nothing with him we took the boat in which Wm Martin Sr., who saw the whole thing, had come over to the island in, and took the body back to the ice house. Just as we got there Dr. Keegan drove up but on making an examination said Tom was past help. The accident occurred about a quarter of three o’clock, I think.”
When the news of the disaster reached town, someone telephoned the sad message to the Stilwell residence on South Walnut Street, which was quickly converted from a home of happiness to one of the profoundest sorrow and distress. The parents, brother and sister of the deceased were completely prostrated by the awful intelligence. The body was brought directly home, being dressed at the dam and taken to town in a single buggy by Marshal Grimes and T. E. Nolan. Scores of friends of the dead boy and the family called during the evening and today and all have manifested the deepest sorrow and most poignant regret for the calamitous affair and the untimely taking off of so promising a young man.
Thomas Albert Stillwell was born in Covington on May 27, 1876, attaining his majority this year. He was a son of Mayor Stilwell by a first wife, a sister of the present Mrs. Stilwell. In 1881 he came here with his parents and in Crawfordsville grew to manhood, unusually popular with all classes of people. He attended Wabash College for several years and was a member of the class of ’97 and of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He was an enthusiastic photographer and one of the best in this community, his novel and successful experiments into moonlight photography last winter having attracted general attention over the country. At the time of his death he was employed at Champion’s gallery.
Few young men ever lived here who have had a larger acquaintance or more friends than “Tommy” Stilwell. In all circles he was popular and respected and his genial way and uniformity happy disposition won him friends everywhere. His death can be viewed only in the light of a calamity and his memory will live long with those who knew him and who now sincerely mourn him.
The funeral services occurred Tuesday afternoon at 2 o’clock, being conducted by Rev. Dr. Leech and Rev. Dr. Daley, of the Primitive Baptist Church. Interment was at Oak Hill Cemetery.