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Darlene E. Kelley
donkeyskid@webtv.net                              
May 23, 1999
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Historical Collections of Ohio
The Kelley Family Book compiled by Hermon Alfred Kelley   1897   
And Then They Went West
by Darlene E. Kelley    1998   
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     June 29th seems a fateful date for Lake Erie shipping and island
people. On this date occurred several severe storms in different years
involving wrecks and loss of life.  In 1924,occurred the most
devastating storm ever known on Lake Erie's shores.  Fortunately for the
inhabitants of Kelley's Island, the storm, which consisted of a group of
several cyclones, did not strike the Island, but traveled from the west,
down the shore of the lake close to the mainland.  While over the water,
the wind caused waterspouts, one of which if no more, was lifted over
the nearby shore and was carried inland , where it broke, deluged and
devastated a large area about Erlin, Ohio.  The dry cyclones swept
inland also and devastated parts of Sandusky, Cedar Point, and various
places further inland, such as Bogart's Corners and elsewhere and then
swept on to destroy half of Lorain, Ohio.  The lives of the island
people were undoubtedly saved on this occasion by the wisdom and courage
of Mr. William D. Kelley ll, who was one of a large company of people
who were in the office building on the dock at the foot of Columbus Ave,
Sandusky, awaiting the steamer Chippewa, when the cyclone struck.  Mr.
Kelley kept the panic stricken people from running out by resolutely
closing the door and standing guard over it.  The building swayed and
trembled, and it seemed to the imprisoned ones as if it would be swept
away by the tremendous force of the wind as were the buildings on every
side of them on the nearby docks, some of which were carried bodily up
into the air and dashed into fragments.  The little building, held down
by the weight of the crowd, was the only one on the docks that survived
the storm.  People ad automobiles standing on the dock were swept into
the water, and the lives of those who were swept away were saved by the
quick and desperate work of those who remained alive.  On June 29th,
1902 occurred a storm of a different character.  It was a gale from the
northeast, which sprang up during the night and continued with such
tremendous force,that even the islanders who were accustomed to storms,
were alarmed.  Many of them, including men, women, and children went to
the east shore to see the enormous waves as they dashed themselves in
unheard of fury against the rocky coast.  In the meantime, the steamer
George Dunbar, which had left Cleveland on June 28th, bound for Alpena
was struggling hopelessly for its life and finally foundered a few miles
east of Kelley's Island early in the morning of June 29th.  Five of its
crew of ten took to the life raft and were lost.  The other five,
including Captain Little, his wife, and grown daughter, escaped from the
steamer in the yawl boat, which soon capsized and only the Captain and
his family remained alive of the entire crew.  They were sustained by
life preservers and all three were submerged beneath the breaking crests
of the huge waves that rolled in terrible fury over their defenseless
heads.  The wind and current was carrying them past the island toward
Marblehead.  As they drifted past, not far from the island, the Captain
when being lifted on the crest of a wave could see the people on the
shore.  He tried to attract their attention by waving his arm. His cries
could not be heard over the roar of the wind and the crash of the
breakers on the beach.  At last, his efforts were rewarded.  He was seen
by someone, but at first no one could believe that human beings were out
there alive in the raging storm. They were taken for drifting wreckage,
and it was not until they had been under observation for sometime that
it was decided that they were human beings in need of rescue.  Among the
watchers on the shore was Mr. Fred Dishinger, an old and experienced
commercial fisherman, his son, a grown man and Mr.James Hamilton, mayor
of the Island village, all three stalwart men and afraid of nothing.
These three men whe convinced at last, that the floating ones were
alive, started in search of a boat, which they found some distance away,
and which they dragged with such desperate haste to the water's edge
that they were well nigh spent by the time they were ready to attempt to
launch it.  The boat was a flat bottomed skiff, ill adapted to battle
with such a sea.  Nothing daunted these three brave men from launching
the boat.  They were watched by a by a little group in which were Miss
Hazel Hamilton and her two younger brothers. In writing of the event
twenty-three years later, Miss Hamilton said: " Myself and two younger
brothers watched from the shore, and we'll never forget the awfulness of
seeing that little boat tossed about in the heavy sea.  It so happened
that we all were down to look at the big waves which was fortunate for
the shipwrecked people.  Dad said "come on Fred, we must get those
people.'  The two and the elder Dishinger carried and dragged the skiff
a considerable distance to the bank, so were pretty well used up before
even launching the craft, which was a diffcult matter.  It was perhaps
thrilling to read about, but not to witness, and I remember not bing
able to eat a bite for dinner or lunch that day."  One can easily
imagine the anxious moments of Miss Hamilton and her brothers as they
watched their father and neighbors in their battle with the raging
waters.  From another source, we learn that the two men rowed, while one
bailed to keep the boat from being swamped.  It was not thought by some
of the older men who watched the attempt, that there was one chance in a
hundred that they would return alive, much less save the lives of
others, for the waves were so huge that the little boat could only be
seen when it was tossed upon the crest of the waves.  But the men who
manned the skiff were experienced oarmen, who had strong arms and brave
hearts, and they finally suceeded in reaching the castaways. In some way
the brave men in the boat succeeded in getting a rope to the Captain who
tied it to his life reserver, undoubtedly a circular affair, and then
attached it to his wife and daughter. They were the towed toward shore
by the men in the skiff, for it was impossible to get them into it.
When the surf was reached , the men in the boat leaped into the water
and each seized one of the shipwrecked ones, who were so far overcome by
the long immersion as to be helpless.  One of the women was insensible.
The boat abandoned and the rescuers struggled  to prevent the others
from being hurtled to death against the rocks; and so, the three men,
struggling desperately to maintain their footing against the strong
undercurrent and avalanche of the breakers, draggd their helpless
burdens to the beach, where they were tenderly cared for by the crowd
that had gathered ready to render them such help as they required.  The
castaways had been in the cold water so long that they had turned blue.
The rescuers were almost as bad a plight and were so exhausted by their
exertions as to be hardly able to walk.  We are gratified to be able to
say that the heroic conduct of these men was brought to the authorities
of the United States Government by some of the Island people, of whom
Captain Corydon Woodford was one. wih the result that, in the words of
the account appeared in the Sandusky Register; " The names of Fred
Dishinger, Sr., Fred Dishinger, Jr., and James Hamilton of Kelley's
Island will go down in the records of the national government as heroes
who won the highest award provided by law for heroic deeds in saving
lives from the perils of the sea."  Each of these men was awarded a gold
medal by the government.  On each medal is inscribed the name of the men
to whom it was awarded, together with the statement, " For heroic daring
in saving life, June 29,1902."  Each medal was accompanied by a letter
signed by Leslie M. Shaw, Secretary of Treasury of the United States, in
which he recited in minute particulars the facts as given above.We quote
the concluding paragraph only;  " Your conduct on this occasion was
brave and self-sacrificing in the highest degree, involving the peril of
your own life, and is deemed well worthy the bestowal of the
accompanying medal which is the highest award provided by law in
testimony of heroic deds in saving life from the perils of the sea."  "
Respectfully,
L.W.Shaw, Secretary"  His letter was dated December 14,1904.  When Mr.
Hamilton died in 1913, his medal was bequeathed to his daughter, Hazel,
who in 1925 still had it in her possession.

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