August 27, 1925 – Bertha Ehlers to JSA

  • August 27, 1925 – Bertha Ehlers (Philadelphia, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co.) – to JSA

Dear John,

Because I believed that Ormonde’s partners and possibly his family might want to know exactly what happened last Sunday I have tried to write out as accurate an account as possible. I am sending it to the next man in the firm whom I know slightly and to my sister in N.Y. so that she can use her judgment about telling the details to the family whom she has been trying to help.

I feel a little strange about making so many statements about you without submitting them to you first, but I do want to write to Mr. Potter without waiting longer. I have therefore said in my letter to him:

“I have made a number of statements in this description concerning Mr. J. S. Apperson who worked so heroically to save Ormonde. I do not want to wait to send my letter to you and yet perhaps I should not quote Mr. Apperson without submitting my statement to him. I shall therefore send him a copy of this account and shall ask him to let you, or me, know if I have been inaccurate in any way.”

Will you then write directly t him, Mr. J. Potter, Butler and Baldwin, 15 East 47th Street N.Y., if you want to correct me in any way, or let me know and I will make good any mistakes if I have made any.

Newspaper accounts have been very garbled and it is possible that I should write to them for reasons about which I should like your opinion when I see you. Of course, personally, they make me sick.

Very sincerely,


This is Thursday – I believe the Governor is in N.Y. and so I am hoping very much that you may be up here and that I may see you this evening. Bertha

Bertha’ account:

Mr. and Mrs. Butler and their son Ormonde were spending the week-end at my camp on Northwest Bay, Lake George. On Sunday after a two o’clock dinner the three guests were urged to go out of doors for the last hour of their visit. They were to leave at half past three. The rest of the family remained in the house to clear away and wash dishes.

I had just finished this work and was on the way to go to the dock to prepare my boat to take the Butlers over to Bolton Landing when Mrs. Butler came running along the bank calling that her husband had taken the little boy out in a canoe and that they had upset and were in the water holding onto the boat. The place where the canoe had upset proved to be about 400 feet north of the dock and less than 100 feet from shore.

Mrs. Butler told us later that Ornie had been sailing a little boat from the dock, the string had slipped from his hand and he had called “Daddy, get my boat for me.” Mr. Butler had immediately, in spite of a heavy sea, put out a canoe from the dock and had set out in it, allowing the boy to go with him.

When they had gone only a short distance to recover the toy the canoe upset, probably because of the high wind and son and Mr. Butler’s weight at one end of the boat, but he had hold of both the canoe and his son when he called to his wife to get help, saying that he would hold on until someone came.

It took probably three or four minutes before I got my boat away from the dock, with a friend and a niece with me, and got around the curve in the shore within sight and very close to the place where the accident had occurred. Already we saw only an upturned canoe, but fortunately found also reaching the spot Mr. J. S. Apperson of the General Electric Company, with a friend. Mr. Apperson had been in Northwest Bay a third of a mile north of the place and hearing cries had put out and had reached the spot very quickly.

Both boats searching found Mr. Butler within two or three minutes lying on the bottom in water about twenty feet deep. Mr. Apperson dove and brought up Mr. Butler. The two boats together took him immediately to shore, where Mr. Apperson began at once to work on Mr. Butler while the two boats set out again to look for the child.

We soon found Ornie’s body a short distance from the place where we found his father but we were unable to recover it. Mr. Apperson then sent Mr. Paxton in his boat for the Forest Ranger, Mr. Taylor, whose island is a mile away while we marked the place where Ornie lay and Mr. Apperson continued to work over Mr. Butler.

Following the alarm given by Mr. Paxton a passing motor boat came and was sent to Bolton Landing for a doctor. A short time later the Forest Ranger with several helpers came in two boats and recovered the body of the child.

Mr. Apperson had been working steadily on Mr. Butler and continued to do so for an hour and a half more. By the time the doctor came and others who could relieve him it was certain that there was no hope. Mr. Apperson said that at no time had he been able to start any heart or lung action although in other cases of drowning he had been able to bring back persons who had been in the water much longer. Since Mr. Butler had been in the water not longer that ten minutes, and since he was an unusually strong man and a good swimmer, also since at the time his wife gave the alarm he was confidently holding onto his son and to the canoe and it was such a short distance from shore, Mr. Apperson believed that death was due to a cramp or interrupted heart action because the accident occur so soon after dinner, rather than to actual drowning. Mr. Apperson believed this also because of the small amount of water found in the lungs and because of Mr. Butler’s failure to react in any way to the various methods of resuscitation applied.

At the time when Mr. Apperson dove for Mr. Butler and brought him up he did not know that a child also was missing and as he told us there was no time to be lost in reaching the shore where he could work to save Mr. Butler those of us who knew that Ornie had been with him concentrated all our efforts upon saving the father first. Then we went to look for Ornie.