Standing on Thin Ice

By Jack Sheedy

With the year ticking down to its last hours, and with the outside temperatures hovering in the mid-teens, we flip through the pages of Cape Cod history to reveal a handful of stories of locals falling through thin ice, from the book Cape Odd.

In days of old, there were a number of reasons why people might have found themselves on thin ice. Folks might have been skating on a local kettle pond, or ice fishing on a nearby lake, or harvesting pond ice to fill the village ice house, or simply crossing an icy surface as a shortcut from Point A to Point B. For instance, according to newspaper accounts…

In January 1908 Miss Lillian Howland was skating on Turtle Pond in Wellfleet when she fell through. Fortunately, she was rescued by Earnest Berrio and Master Atkins Berrio, who happened to be nearby. In February 1923, George Bastien fell through thin ice while fishing on Mary Dunn Pond in Barnstable. By chance, Joseph Maher and Charles Perry were in the vicinity doing some work at a nearby ice house and were able to rescue Bastien with the aid of a wooden plank.

Ice harvesting could be tricky business. During the same year Miss Howland fell through the ice at Wellfleet, David Love had a similar accident while filling the Nobscusset ice house in Dennis. He was pulled clear of an icy demise by local men, Ben Eldredge and Clarence Sears.

Ice surfaces could be especially tricky when horses were involved. In fact, there were a number of cases of horses falling through the ice. In February 1892, D. H. Baker’s horse went into the water at Bumpus Pond in Buzzards Bay. The animal was rescued and brought back to its stable to be dried off and rubbed down. At Cotuit in January 1900, a horse belonging to James Bracket fell through the ice while plowing. That animal was also rescued.

The temptation to cross the ice surface of a pond rather than going the longer and safer way around proved to be a dangerous decision for a number of locals, some being children. In January 1861, two sons of William Robbins fell through ice at East Harwich. The father tried in vain to save the boys (ages 9 and 11), but the ice around him kept collapsing. Fortunately, Captain George F. Pierce arrived on the scene and went into the frigid water to pull the two boys to safety. The older boy, who was not breathing, was revived. All survived the ordeal. (Apparently, during the previous year Capt. Pierce had saved another person from drowning.)

The very next year, in December 1862, a number of children were saved from locals ponds. In Chatham, Levi Atwood and Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Emery saved the daughter of local sea captain Philip Stetson. The girl had fallen through the ice while attempting to cross Oyster Pond. On the same day, two girls – identified as the daughter of Dr. Brownell and the daughter of Rev. Willett – fell into icy water while skating on a pond. Luckily, they were rescued by Gideon Eldredge, Jr., who happened to be on the scene.

Two years later, in February 1894, a 12-year-old girl pulling her younger brother on a sled across the Mill Pond in Sandwich broke through the ice. Their mother, Mrs. Eunice Tinkham, was unable to reach them. Somehow, the girl was able to push her brother up onto the ice. She then hung on until help arrived. Two local men, A. R. Pope and Josiah Newcomb, came with a ladder and rescued the girl from the cold water.


As this 13th year of blogging Off-the-Shelf comes to a close, I wish all a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year!

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on