Bio: Henderson, Lucius & Clifton, Aaron (1930 Drowning)
Contact: Kris Leonhardt
Surnames: Clifton, Henderson
....Source: State-wide Headlines Chronicle the Heroism of Owen Lad in 1930s, Maggie Brost and Janelle Schroede (photos)
Aaron Clifton - High School Photo
Local newspaper headlines set the stage for the events that are to follow: “Entire Nation from Coast to Coast Suffers from Intense Heat,” “Recover Body of Stratford Youth,” “Drought is Killing Fish by the Thousands,” and “Four Year Old Child Drowns in Eau Claire,” and “Score of Deaths are Blamed on Heat Wave.”
In the days that surrounded the incident, Wisconsin residents were reminded “Unless you are a strong swimmer, and familiar with life-saving, think twice before plunging in to save a drowning person; so often when this is done there are two deaths instead of on,” from the Appleton Post Crescent and “A scorching sun beat down on the entire central part of the United States…today, continuing a heat wave that has taken more than a score of lives, created acute suffering in the congested metropolitan areas and indirectly contributed to heavy toll by drowning” in the Sheboygan Press.
The Press sited the highest toll in the Midwest of death by drowning to be from Wisconsin, with ten, compared to the second most state of Ohio, with nine.
The brutal heat was baring down on the state when long-time Owen barber Percy Clifton’s son Aaron was working on a line crew near Cadott. A 23 year old athlete at the University of Minnesota, Aaron was spending the summer working high-line construction between Owen and Chippewa Falls.
Needing some respite from the heat, Clifton looked to the American Legion Park on the Yellow River as a place to cool off.
At the same time as Aaron took to the waters of the Cadott area river, Lucius Henderson, 16 year old son of Willis Henderson was doing much the same. The Hendersons had arrived in the Cadott area twelve years earlier, at a time when many Southern African American families were migrating to the northern states for job opportunities, during the first war world, and when racial tensions were still quite predominant.
Though Wisconsin had little to offer any new residents, as most farms were owner-operated and many of the manufacturing jobs required specific skills, the Hendersons found a place they would call home in the Cadott area.
Willis Henderson had already laid three sons to rest the day that his son Lucius took to the river to cool off. As Lucius ventured further into the depths of the river, he was suddenly overtaken by the flowing waters. Struggling to gain his buoyancy, the young man started to drop below the surface.
Seeing Lucius struggling, a nearby swimmer went to his rescue. When it appeared that Lucius could not be saved by his swimming partner. Clifton, a lettered athlete, went out to assist.
Clifton was then overtaken by the panicked swimmer and both disappeared under the water and were swept away with the rocking waves.
The two young men were discovered 25 minutes later, but attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful. Local newspapers highlighted the August day’s events in upcoming editions, noting the Owen lad’s heroism at the cost of his life, without hesitation to the stigmas that existed at that time.
The headlines then appeared across the state, both signaling the possibilities of attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer and noting the extraordinary heroism of a brave young man.
An unconfirmed photo of Aaron (far right) and his brothers Floyd and Kenneth at a young age.
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