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Strange Drowning

The Susquehanna River, upstream from Catawissa.

To the casual observer, the Susquehanna River is a scenic wonder, lazily meandering through the Keystone State.  Yet this majestic river has snatched away countless lives throughout history, including the life of a Danville man named Charles Gibbons who, in 1905, lost his life in a most peculiar manner.

Here is the story which appeared in the August 17, 1905 edition of The Columbian (Bloomsburg) newspaper:

Charles E. Gibbons of Danville, drowned in a very strange manner in the Susquehanna River at a point near the Pennsylvania Railroad water tank, a short distance below Catawissa, Friday night.  The body was not discovered until Sunday morning.  It was standing in an upright position with the legs imbedded deep in the mud.

It seems that Gibbons and Oliver Wertz, also of Danville, started up the river in a row boat Friday morning in quest of some valuable drift wood.  Neither of them was seen in Danville again until Saturday afternoon when Wertz appeared there making inquiries concerning Gibbons, and was greatly surprised to hear that he had not reached home.  He then explained as follows: They were bringing a raft down the river.  He was in charge of the boat and drift wood.  Gibbons was walking along the shore.  Between 8 and 9 o'clock, a short distance below Catawissa, where the tank is located, the raft parted and while Wertz was trying to repair the damage the boat capsized.  He told his companion to walk along the shore and that he himself would take care of the upturned boat and the wood until shallow water was reached a little farther on when he would right the boat and connect the parted raft.

When shallow water was reached Gibbons failed to put in an appearance.  After waiting awhile Wertz went back to the spot where the boat had capsized and there he found Gibbons' dog lying on shore but no trace of Gibbons.  He did not know what to think of this at first, but finally concluded that the man had jumped a passing freight train and gone to Danville.

He first moment of real apprehensiveness seemed to be when he learned that Gibbons was not in Danville.

His fear was soon shared by others and when Saturday night came on and there was still no tidings from the missing man solicitude gave way to a settled conviction that some dreadful fate had overtaken him.  Sunday morning a large party of searchers started up the river.

The gruesome discovery was made by Edward and Samuel Sainsbury.  A short distance from shore the man's head was seen slightly protruding above the water.  The body was in a standing position.  The man wore heavy rubber boots and his legs had sunk into the soft mud.  Decomposition had far advanced.  The inference would seem to be in view of Mr. Wertz's story that the deceased instead of following Wertz's directions and walking down the shore undertook to wade out into the stream to render assistance.  His heavy boots helped to bear him down and he got fast in the mud.  His companion had passed the spot; there was no other help and death by drowning was the result.

Coroner Sharpless of Catawissa empaneled a jury and a verdict of death by accidental drowning was rendered.  

Gibbons was 44 years old and is survived by a wife.

Profile rock of "Indian Chief" along river near Catawissa.  The road is now Route 42, and the rock can still be seen today.

(the original article can be viewed here)

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