Kennebec, ME Boat Accident & Drowning, May 1903

Carried Over Augusta Dam, Saturday Noon.

Alphonse Mathieu, Paper Mill Employee, Lost His Life.

Five Others in the Boat All Escape With a Wetting.

Alphonse Mathieu was drowned at Kennebec dam a few minutes before 1 o'clock, Saturday afternoon.

He and five other men, all employe[sic] of the Cushnoc Paper Company, had been home to dinner, and were crossing the river in a boat on their return to work. They ventured too near the dam, the current proved too strong for them and despite their frantic efforts they were swept over into the eddy below. Onlookers saw the doomed boat draw nearer and nearer the edge of the dam, while the rowers strove to bring her across to the eastern shore suddenly she whirled and headed straight down with the rushing waters. She remained upright as she slid down over the middle of the long apron. The six men stood up as she plunged them out of sight in the boiling waters below. In an instant five figures were seen scrambling up on the side of the breakwater between the river and the mouth of the paper mill canal where they had been thrown by the eddy. One did not appear.

An excited crowd soon gathered, grappling irons were procured from the paper mill, and from the police station, but a boat could not live in that seething pool, and all that could be done toward recovering the body was to stand on the breakwater and plunge the grapples into the eddy in the hope of finding some trace of the lost man. Superintendent J. D. Butler of the Cushnoc Paper Company kept a crew there till late at night, but nothing was found.

The drowned man was 19 years old and lived with his parents Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Mathieu, at 5 York street. He came from Canada to Augusta with his parents 16 years ago, and had since lived in this city. He had been working on the chipper in the paper mill, but had been idle during the winter. He told his people of a feeling that if he went back into that mill something would happen to him, and seemed to dread doing so. Besides his parents three brothers and two sisters all residing in Augusta, Gideon Mathieu and David Mathieu, both with homes of their own, Mrs. Herminine Charpentier, wife of Patrick O. Charpentier, Miss Amanda Mathieu, Mrs. Angelina Cloutier, wife of Augustine Cloutier, and Dominic Mathieu, who is studying for the priesthood in College L Assumption at Montreal, survive him.

His companions at the time of the accident were Joseph Lessard of 23 Washington street, a splitter, Napoleon Mathieu, not a relative, who lives in Edwards block 55 of Washington street and is a grinder at the paper mill, Leon Poulin of 6 York street, a log handler, John Patrie of 10 Mill street, a log handler and Wilfred LaJoie of 58 Northern avenue, a workman on the heater. None of them were hurt except for the wetting and it is surmised that Alphonse Mathieu must have struck his head against a rock or he would have come out like the others. When they found that nothing further could be done, Lessard, Napoleon Mathieu, Poulin and Patrie walked home to get dry clothes while Lajoie having a working chance where it was warm, went to his labor without returning to his home. Later word was brought to him that his wife was nearly prostrated from hearing of the accident, and not seeing him to be sure of his safety, he too went home. All five returned to their labors in the afternoon.

It was a scene of excitement in the neighborhood where the men live Saturday afternoon. The first reports were from those who saw the accident from the west bank, and did not see to determine who had been saved and thought at first that all were lost. The survivors wet and bedraggled, received royal welcomes as they reached their homes.

Engineer D. J. Hinckley of the Kennebec Light and Heat Company seems to be the only man who witnessed the accident at close range. He says that the first he knew of it was as he looked out of the window and saw the boat come around the works at the sluice-way and slide on the middle of the wide apron about 20 feet from the end of the dam. As they went over, they stood up and went under water standing. The eddy carried them against the breakwater below, and the five who came through alive got out before assistance could have reached them. It was only a second or two from the time they went under water till they were climbing out. The boat was thrown against the breakwater and smashed into flinders.

Lajoie says that he does not know just how they got out. They all stood up and tried to jump except Alphonse Mathieu, who tried to cling to the boat and lost his life. When he came out of the plunge, Lajoie says that he found himself clutching for the rocks of the breakwater and got a hold and pulled out. Then he helped Poulin and Patrie out while Napoleon Mathieu and Lessard got out by themselves. Poulin was the last man out and wad swept by the breakwater several times before a helping hand was reached to him.

Napoleon Mathieu and Lessard tell a graphic story of their experience. Mathieu says: We no keep the boat where we want her. She go over the dam. I tell Joe he hang to me and I hang to him, and when we go over we hang to each other and we go over together. Then we got one swim, and we keep hang to each other together, and we get out together, and Alphonse he not get out. Then we go home, get dry clothes, and we come back to work. It too bad." Lessard added: "We no come across in that boat any more. We walk. The bridge is good enough for us."

The dead man seems to have been a favorite with his companions, and all have a good word for his memory.

The river was watched closely, and the pool where the man was drowned was probbed from early daylight till dark by men from the paper mill crew, but no trace of the body was discovered. It is thought to be still in the eddy, as the undertow is keeping it from moving down the river.

Daily Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME 4 May 1903

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MATHIEU'S BODY FOUND.

Picked Up, Thursday Forenoon, in the River at Richmond.

The body of Alphonse Mathieu who was drowned at the Kennebec dam, May 2, was found in the river opposite the Kennebec Market at Richmond, at 11 A. M. Thursday, by Capt. Frank Blanchard of the tug Charlie Lawrence.

Shortly after noon, a telegraph message informed the people here of the finding of a body. The dead man's father, Joseph Mathieu, accompanied by Undertaker Henry W. Plummer, drove down to identify the body, if possible. A telephone message in the evening gave word that it had been identified as that of the missing Alphonse Mathieu. The body was brought to this city, and the funeral will occur from St. Augustine's church at 8 o'clock this morning, Rev. A. A. Hamel officiating.

Since the drowning on that Saturday noon, the river bottom about the scene of the accident, and for a long distance below, has been dragged till not a spot remained unexplored. A diver was employed, and no pains spared to make the search thorough, and finally there was nothing left to do but to wait for chance to bring it to light.

Alphonse Mathieu was a promising young man, highly esteemed by all his acquaintances, and the bereaved family has had universal sympathy in their affliction.

Daily Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME 15 May 1903