Here’s an account of a Scottish immigrant, a one John Flanagan, who was hailed as a hero more than once in his homeland, saving others from drowning. A twist of irony befell the White Mills resident, as he met the same fate in the Lackawaxen River one day in 1881.
KIMBLES - Here’s an account of a Scottish immigrant, a one John Flanagan, who was hailed as a hero more than once in his homeland, saving others from drowning. A twist of irony befell the White Mills resident, as he met the same fate in the Lackawaxen River one day in 1881.
An English immigrant by the name of Michael McDermott drowned with him.
They were friends.
Both were skilled workers at the Dorflinger Glass Company.
Rivers were running high thanks to recent heavy rains.
The Evening Gazette of Port Jervis reported that the freshet was very good for rafting logs down the Delaware. White water rapids were also an allure for recreation, and has been to this day.
Flanagan was in charge of the engraving department for Christian Dorflinger at the cut glass plant in White Mills. A number of the employees at Dorflinger Glass Works were intent on a variety of athletic activities, Saturday, June 11. Hard rains earlier in the week had rendered the Lackawaxen a raging torrent. A group of the workers, mostly engravers, gathered outside E.A. Dorflinger’s store on Friday and spoke of the impossibility of navigating the river in this condition.
Charles H. Dorflinger, youngest son of the proprietor, happened to be present. The Wayne County Herald reported that Dorflinger made light of the alleged risk and expressed his determination to pass over the high White Mills dam in one of the two flat-bottomed boats belonging to one of the men.
The dam is thought to been for diverting water to the sawmill in White Mills.
Neil Docherty, another Dorflinger glass cutter, offered to join him, and soon they launched. The duo shot over the dam in triumph. The spectators were roused with admiration and inspiration to follow suit. One of them was John Flanagan.
He said he was determined to take a boat from White Mills to the mouth of the Lackawaxen the following day. Michael McDermott, a cutter, offered to join him on the adventure.
Dorflinger and Docherty pledged to make the same trip.
Urged not do it
Saturday morning broke, and by this time several of the men strongly urged the party to change their minds- especially McDermott, who could not swim.
It was generally assumed that the race was abandoned.
That afternoon, however, Dorflinger and McDermott were underway, and had passed over the White Mills dam. A second boat followed, with Dorflinger at the helm and Docherty his companion.
Just before reaching Brink’s dam about a mile from Hawley, the first boat stepped to complete some arrangements, and Dorflinger’s skiff took the lead. The dam was passed safely, and no mishap occurred until the Hawley dam was reached.
Miscalculating the river, Dorflinger’s boat struck an object, and narrowly capsized. Serious injury and loss of the bottom planks were avoided. Both parties pulled ashore but only for a few minutes, as they were eager to reach Lackawaxen, still some 16 miles distant.
They intended to get there before dark and in time to catch the evening train home.
A confluence of three rivers describes Hawley; the Middle Creek and the Wallenpaupack River - the Paupack Falls, a mighty force in those days- both empty into the Lackawaxen in the village. Both tributaries were also well swollen from the rains and added greatly to the rapids encountered in Hawley.
“Either unaware of the increased danger or unmindful of it, the boats were again started and were borne swiftly by the restless current,” the Herald reporter continued.
They were heading towards Kimbles, which was also called the Narrows, for good reason. Four miles below Hawley, the Lackawaxen suddenly contacts more than half its width, while passing through a narrow rock gorge. Here, a bridge spanned from the Delaware & Hudson Canal towpath to the other side of the river.
This spot was said to have always been a terror to the men who piloted log rafts, a place where many rafts were broken up. The river narrowed to about 40 feet, requiring the canal company to erect a massive stone retaining wall to carry the canal and towpath alongside the river.
“As the boats reached this dangerous spot they were perhaps 80 to 100 feet apart,” the Herald reported. “Dorflinger’s craft was the first to plunge into the seething contract…”
Onlookers at the Kimbles railroad station said the boat leaped 10 feet as it passed under the bridge, alighting right side up.
A moment afterward Docherty, who was sitting with his face toward the stern, cried out that the other boat had been swamped. Dorflinger glanced backward and saw that the other boat was out of sight, and Flanagan and McDermott were struggling in the water.
He immediately turned his boat to a pile of driftwood projecting from the shore. Dorflinger hoped that the other party would seize some timbers which skirted the towpath side of the river.
“The poor fellows, however, were quickly swept into the middle of the stream, which for some hundreds of feet below the bridge is full of sunken rocks and almost as wild as the rapids above Niagara Falls,” the Herald stated.
Called for help
As they passed the other boat they appeared to be clinging to something, and Flanagan called for help. Dorflinger and Docherty shouted to them to keep up the courage and they would save them, at the same time pushing their boat stern forward out into the stream.
Quickly, Dorflinger’s boat was filled with water and they were struggling in the deep water near he rocky shore on the railroad side of the river, a short way below the station.
As the left the boat Docherty begged his companion to “keep cool.” This admonition doubtless aided them in reaching the shore in safety, as they were obliged to swim across the river to secure a foothold.
Meanwhile McDermott was swept by the current into water not more than three feet deep. Whether through loss of strength or judgment, he was carried back to the deeper part of the torrent. Some eyewitnesses said that when McDermott sunk, Flanagan dove for him and carried back to the surface on his back.
The doomed men became separated, however, and shortly afterward, Flanagan disappeared and did not rise again. McDermott was observed struggling wildly for a few more moments before he sank from sight as well.
Two railroad track hands located McDermott’s body at about 7 p.m. that evening, near a wing dam that funneled water into a canal feeder, a short distance below the Narrows.
The body of Flanagan was found at 5 p.m. on Sunday, at the upper end of the wing dam among drift wood. It was discovered and taken from the water by Joseph Atkinson, an employee at the glass factory who had been sent down to search for it.
A funeral for Flanagan was held Monday at Hawley, and was well attended.
Who they were
Michael McDermott was a native of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. He had been in the States for several years, setting first in the West. For two years he worked at the glass factory in White Mills, as a cutter. He was about 40 years of age and single. It was not clear if he any relatives in the U.S., but may have had an uncle in the West and another in Providence, RI.
John Flanagan was a native of Glasgow, Scotland and was 30 years old. He had emigrated in 1871. At his death he left behind his wife Marey and three children. The 1880 census listed two sons; it appears they had an infant at home at the time of the accident.
Their son James C. was born in New York State in about 1877. Flanagan returned to Europe the next year. In 1879, however, they were back in the United States. That year, their son Daniel C. was born.
John and had since been employed at the Dorflinger glass factory in White Mills. He had charge of his own engraving department and was considered a first class workman.
Christian Dorflinger regarded both McDermott and Flanagan as two of his best men, and were held in high acclaim by the workforce. Their less was felt deeply at the factory and in the community.
Flanagan and his family may have resided in one of the numerous workers’ cottages Dorflinger had erected in the village, with the curiously curved roofs. Several of these small, matching cottages still line Charles Street, and some other streets. The 1880 census shows that Flanagan’s neighbors were employed as glass cutters, engravers or blowers.
Saved several people
In Glasgow Flanagan became known for saving several people from drowning. He was considered for the “Humane Medal” but his record fell one short. “Nevertheless he was repeatedly highlight eulogized in the Glasgow papers,” The Herald related.
Since arriving in the States he was cried with saving two lives at Rockaway and another man, William Reardon, at White Mills.
Before starting on their fateful river trip, McDermott, who could not swim, expressed some fear that he could drown. “Never fear,” said Flanagan, “if you drown, I will drown with you,” a pledge which he little thought would be so soon fulfilled, The Herald reported.
Nothing more about the family has been found.
Further information on Neil Docherty has not been located.
Charles Henry Dorflinger was about 23 at the time of the river trip, and was a clerk in the glass house. The third born son of Christian and Elizabeth Dorflinger, he would later become company vice president end general manager. In 1896 he was married to Cornelia “Neal” Decker. They adopted a daughter, Grace Toms. Their elegant home was on Charles Street, the street being named after him. Cornelia died in 1937, and Charles, in 1940.
Dorflinger: America’s Finest Glass 1852-1921 by John Quentin Feller
Wayne County Herald, Evening Gazette (Fultonhistory.com)
Census data at Ancestry.com (Hawley Public Library)