Thursday, January 6, 1921 started out as a typical day of play in Kingston for 9- year old Isabelle Kiefer and 7-year old Roger Brown but ended tragically when both children died. This story recently came to my attention when Shirley Powell of Sycamore brought in to the Joiner Room several photos that she wondered if we could identify. In one photo, men are standing on the banks and on the ice of the Kishwaukee with pike poles. This seemed to indicate a drowning. A review of newspaper articles in the Joiner Room’s file of accidental death reports told the story of Isabelle and Roger.
The search was concentrated in the area between the C. & N. W. railroad bridge (where there was a hole in the ice) downstream to the wagon bridge at the Kingston Park. The river ice at the time was reported to be 8-9 inches thick. Five-foot channels on each side of the river were cleared so men could use the pike poles and grappling hooks to find the little bodies. Because of freezing temperatures, men worked through the night, using auto headlights, to keep the channels open. In one area, dynamite was used to break up the ice and workers using large ice tongs removed it to the shore. An expert diver from Chicago was brought in to search under water.
The expert diver, center, watches searchers who are using pike poles. This picture also shows the channels kept open 24 hours a day.
Calls went out to Belvidere, Genoa, Sycamore and DeKalb for men to assist in the search, prompting one factory in Genoa to close offering their employees full pay if they searched. Because workers were there around the clock, warming and feeding tents were set up on the riverbank. Women fed the men food that was donated by area stores. As the search progressed, more and more onlookers gathered to watch recovery efforts, with many of them donating food and coffee.
Roger was found five days after his disappearance when men lifted a barbed wire fence that spanned the river. Near him was one of Isabelle’s mittens. On the tenth day of the search Isabelle was recovered at a spot a short distance from where Roger was found. Double funeral services were held in Kingston the following week with hundreds attending.
A crowd, on the right, gathers near the fence where Roger was found.