‘Plunged and submerged:’ Remembering the Scout Maid’s tragic voyage on Magician Lake – HORIZONS 2022
Published 1:19 pm Friday, June 17, 2022
SISTER LAKES — On March 25, 1922, eight members of a South Bend-based Boy Scout troop embarked on a boat trip across a wind-swept and icy Magician Lake, with a plan to build a scout camp on Hemlock Island. That plan would never come to fruition, however, as all eight passengers in the 15-foot iron boat drowned before reaching their destination.
Nearly 100 years later, the only remnants of their tragic story lie in digitized newspaper clippings from across the country – but one local resident is on a mission to memorialize the lives of the scouts who were lost that day.
In 2007, Sister Lakes resident Todd Marquart was reading “Sister Lakes: Postcard History Series” when he came upon a postcard that made reference to a “Scouts Island,” named for eight boy scouts who drowned on Magician Lake.
As a history enthusiast whose father and grandfather were both Scout Masters, Marquart’s interest was piqued. Marquart slowly began to gather clippings from The South Bend Tribune and beyond about the details of this forgotten tragedy.
According to a March 9, 1922 report in the South Bend Tribune, a group of South Bend Boy Scouts had planned to build a camp on Magician Lake complete with a cabin, swimming course, bird sanctuary, radio and other activities for the scouts to engage in.
Troop leaders had already started bringing cabin-building supplies to Hemlock Island the afternoon of March 25, using a motorized 15-foot boat handmade from galvanized iron and named “Scout Maid.” The boat had made several trips to the island before three adult scout leaders were set to transport five child scouts to the island.
“Those kids must have been chomping at the bit with excitement to get out there,” said Marquart, as he reflected on the events. “The next thing you know, they’re treading water in heavy woolen clothing and they’re drowning in the blink of an eye.”
Reports state high waves caused by gale winds capsized the boat, and all eight passengers were unable to keep afloat. Victims included Scout Executive Joseph ‘Jo’ Taylor, 39, and his nine-year-old son James ‘Jimmy’ Taylor – the youngest of the troop. Scout Master Vern C. Murphy, 35, and Assistant Scoutmaster Judson Taylor, 20, were the other adult victims, while Clinton Matthews, 16, Kenneth Borough, 13, William Kingsley, 14, and Philip Neitzel, 13, also died.
Reports state there were 13 total members in the party, including W.C. Harper and his son, Wayne, who witnessed events from the shore. Wayne allegedly saw the boat sinking and ran to his father.
“The elder Harper ran immediately to an old boat, half filled with water, floating idly at the edge of the lake,” said a report in the Mar. 27, 1922, South Bend Tribune. “[He shouted] across to the struggling men and boys to keep up their courage … his boat, however was a frail, leaking affair and before he could get near enough to offer assistance, he was horrified to see the unfortunate members of the little party go down one by one to remain ‘neath the surface of the icy waves.”
Afterward, reports called the boat “unseaworthy,” with police saying it was not fit for more than three passengers and the Dowagiac coroner stating the boat was overloaded.
“This is strictly speculation, but they were probably in a hurry to establish their camp,” Marquart said. “They’re all filled with excitement and everything, so they all pile into the vessel … some things happen so quickly, we don’t have the value of hindsight.”
The reports, which come from the South Bend Tribune, South Bend News-Times, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and New York Tribune, vary in their telling of specific details, but they each confirm the identities and recovery of all eight scouts the following day – with the help of friends, local residents and authorities.
By the time all bodies were recovered, hundreds had gathered to witness the events. In the following days, Boy Scout leaders visited South Bend to mourn with the families and loved ones of the fallen scouts.
‘A time for reflection’
Marquart, an avid fisherman and boater on Magician Lake, said he was out fishing near the site of the tragedy one night last summer, and suddenly was overcome with emotion.
“In my mind’s eye, I could just picture these poor children lying like corpses on the battlefield at the bottom of the lake,” Marquart said. “In a nanosecond, you go from elation to complete panic.”
Marquart also was inspired to write a poem about the children. It reads:
“Plunged and submerged in the icy depths,
Clutched by the cold hand of despair,
Confused and frantic you gasped your last breaths,
In your loss and sorrow this community shares.”
As the 100-year mark approached, Marquart felt he needed to do something to memorialize the people who lost their lives that day, and was surprised that nobody had done so already.
“I just took it upon myself,” he said. “Somebody in the community had to take it upon themselves to recognize this event. … I don’t like to use the word ‘anniversary,’ because it’s not a time for celebration. It’s a time for reflection and remembrance.”
With help from Sarah Noggle, as well as some donations, Marquart has secured funding for a memorial plaque to be placed on the boat launch site of Magician Lake. According to Marquart, the plaque has been ordered and he hoped it would arrive in time for a dedication ceremony March 25, but it has not yet arrived.
Jon Cary, Scout Executive and CEO for the LaSalle Council of Boy Scouts in South Bend, said he would attend any ceremony memorializing the scouts and their leaders, and encourage other local Boy Scout leaders to attend as well.
“I think it’s important to remember them,” Cary said. “Both in terms of recognizing the young scouts and the adult leaders who gave their time to be with these scouts, but also bringing awareness to the importance of being prepared – which is following the scout motto of taking all the precautions and safety measures necessary to have a safe, fun and enjoyable excursion.”
Marquart said he hopes the memorial plaque may also serve as a warning to local boaters to take those same safety precautions.
“We decided we were going to use the words ‘lost their lives in a tragic boating accident,’” Marquart said. “We both agreed that maybe, just maybe, somebody will read that and it would keep them from having their 20th beer and from running somebody over.”