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Death in a Well

Working in a deep, hand-dug well was risky business in the days before machinery made human descent into the bowels of the earth unnecessary. Graphic evidence of the danger was provided by an account in the April 26, 1877, issue of the Seward Nebraska Reporter.

"Last Thursday afternoon at 3 o'clock a young man about seventeen years old named Wm. Aldrich descended the well on Claudius Jones' farm . . . to clean out the same, something over sixty feet deep, and to repair the curbing. . . . When near the bottom he said the curbing boards were so rotten he could force his hand through. Being solicited to come up on account of danger, he remonstrated and said he was all right at the bottom. As soon as he struck the first blow the sides caved in and buried him up to his waist. . . . [T]he man [who was assisting Aldrich] secured the services of a neighbor and one descended to the rescue about 5 o'clock. When the man reached the bottom he found that some boards had fallen over Aldrich's head and the latter said if they were removed he could get out, and while endeavoring to remove the boards more sand fell and the rescuer had to be hauled up to save his own life. This second fall of sand covered Aldrich all over, but the boards gave him a chance to get air and let his calls for help be heard.

"Yesterday morning Mr. Jones was notified of the affair and he took Dr. Walker and Thomas Osborn with him out there. . . . [A] section of curbing was constructed by them, twenty-four feet long, and let down, and then the process of hauling up the loose sand commenced. All day and all night the work proceeded and up to 9 o'clock last night he [Aldrich] spoke and was still heard; but when his body was reached at 3 o'clock this morning life was extinct. It is supposed as the workmen neared him the sand gradually filled the breathing space and suffocated him."

(December 1996)



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