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Grants Pass Boy Drowns in the Rogue on Decoration Day 1919

A holiday picnic in Grants Pass ended sadly on Decoration Day in 1919, the precursor of today’s Memorial Day.

Thirteen-year-old Carl Whillock was at a picnic with friends when he went exploring.  While walking along the banks of the Rogue River, Whillock saw something just over the bank, reached for it, lost his footing and fell in, according to newspaper accounts.  He tumbled into a dangerous whirlpool and was immediately swept away. 

Searchers who presumed Whillock had drowned used blasting powder liberally along the river in an effort to dislodge the body in case it was trapped.  Later, a straw dummy was made, loaded onto a board, and slid into the river at the point where the boy fell in.  It was hoped the dummy would trace a body's route through the whirlpool.  But it, too, was sucked in and disappeared.  A net strung across the river about a mile-and-a-half downstream was fruitless as well. Whillock’s father, proprietor of the Golden Rule in Medford, hired spotters, who found the body almost two weeks later nearly a mile from where the boy fell into the Rogue. 

Sources: “Rogue River Will Not Give Up Its Dead." The Grants Pass Daily Courier 3 June 1919: 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn96088181/1919-06-03/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1846&index=0&date2=2015&words=Carl&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&lccn=sn96088181&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=Carl+Whillock; Ibid. Body of Whillock Boy Recovered at Gold Ray." 13 June 1919:1. Historic Oregon Newspapers. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.