Grand Haven Daily Tribune July 5, 1929

Tenth Victim Swept Off Pier In Heavy Sea;
Crowd of 45,000 Witnessed Tragedies Here on Fourth

Miss Mildred Fifield, 16, Grand Rapids.
Robert Schindler, 20, Alpine Township, Kent County.
Julius Tisch, about 20, Grand Rapids.
Leonard Kellogg, 20, Grand Rapids.
Carl Rohloff, 21, Walker Township.


Frank Petrowski, 40, Grand Rapids.
Rudolph Pitulik, 22, Detroit.
Erwin Pitulik, 17, Detroit.
Walter Schwartz, 19, Grand Rapids.
           John Giddings, 21, Grand Rapids.           

   A treacherous undertow reached out from Lake Michigan on the first sane Fourth of July in Grand Haven to snatch the lives of ten holiday swimmers for the highest toll in the local history of the nation’s birthday.

   Except for two Detroiters vacationing on a nearby farm, all the victims were from Grand Rapids or Kent County.

   Despite warnings of the dangerous sea which continued running after the morning rain, vacationists ventured into the water, where they were  tossed about dangerously by the huge waves and then, weary from the battle, many were pulled under to their death by the mighty suction.  A dozen more were saved, after much work to revive them by guards and doctors when the waters had been cheated by their prey.

   Four bodies were recovered on the Fourth.  They were; Miss Mildred Fifield, Robert Schindler, Julius Tisch and Leonard Kellogg, all of Grand Rapids or Kent County.  Guards worked long but in vain over them.  About 5 a.m. today  the body of Carl Rohloff was recovered.  He was from Walker Township, Kent County.

   Officials this morning  resumed  efforts to recover the five bodies still missing.  Dragging halted at 10 p.m. last night.

   The two Detroiters were seen as they went under and three unclaimed baskets of clothes remain at the beach house as mute testimony that the three others likewise perished.

   The other bodies may not be recovered for a week or so it was said today by the Coast Guards.

   Coroner Govert Van Zantwick will hold an inquest into the fatalities.  Such action was decided on following a conference with Prosecutor C. C. Lokker owing to the large number of deaths.  It had first been thought state parks in charge, has ordered Deputy Heffmaster who handles that branch of the work to make an investigation at once.  Mr. Loutit said efforts would be made to keep bathers out of the lake at the lake at the  State Park hereafter when such a sea was running although nothing could prevent people going in at other points along the shore.  Warnings were repeatedly ignored yesterday.

   A crowd officially announced as 45,000 who reached the Oval in more than 8,000 cars witnessed the drownings, rescues and recovery of some of the bodies. 

   All of the fatalities except one were off the Oval.  Miss Fifield, daughter of Mrs. Marguerite Fifield, 1915 Lafayette avenue S.E. Grand Rapids, was swept of the South pier by a huge wave.  A South High student, she was here with Miss Marie Voigt, 2247 Union boulevard, S.E. in a party which included six married couples.  Near the light house the big sea swept over the pier. The other girl grabbed a steel support and saved herself.  Three others were carried off.  They were William Vanderlaan, Martin Ringelberg and Chester Van Portfliet, all of Grand Rapids.  They are camping at the Oval and were all fishing at the time of the tragedy there.  Coast Guards saw the accident and saved the three boys and got the girl’s body.  She had been a good swimmer and nearly reached the pier once, only to be swept away by another big comber.

   The two Detroiters who drowned were spending two weeks vacationing at a farm on Route 1, Grand Haven, with their parents, a younger brother and William Adameek.  The latter, swimming with the two older brothers came back to shore when the exertion of battling the waves tired him.   He saw his two companions go down, powerless to reach them.  The Pitulik family lives at 4543 Roosevelt road, Detroit.

   The two Detroit victims, now working there, formerly were employed in a local factory.  None of the other victims were familiar with the danger of the big lake which few local residents entered Thursday.

   The fishing tug of the Van Halls discovered  a capsized boat today.

   Schindler, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred J. Shindler, Alpine Township, Kent County, and Carl Rohloff, Walker Township, were here with Julius Bockheim, 133 Dale street, Grand Rapids.  They were swimming 250 or 300 feet out.  Turning back, the current was too powerful.  Bockheim was unable to help his companions, whom he tried to push to shore.  He disrobed to his underwear took a boat and despite the heavy sea saved Bockheim but the others had gone down.

   Many similar rescues were made and the other victims had much the same experience.  Schwartz and Giddings were not recorded here last night as missing but friends who returned to Grand Rapids with their clothing saw them perish as the deadly undertow got in its work against tiring strength.

   Contrary to reports the Coast Guard boat did not capsize at the Oval Thursday although the smaller boat used by the life guards at the Oval was swamped twice in trying to rescue some of the swimmers who were drowned there.

   Capt. Preston said the four men who were sent to work on Miss Fifield, who had been taken from the water about 3:00 p.m., and the three boys who had been pulled from the water by the pier. 

   At a little after 4:00 p.m. the call came to send a boat as there were more who were missing.  Half of the force were sent, some on the beach and others in the big powerboat which was needed in the heavy sea.

   Edward Vanden Berg, regular life guard, and two extras, Kenneth Lehman and Ted Moore, attempted to get a boat out to the life lines where some of the swimmers were struggling, but no small boat could ride in the surf which was beating in at the time.  Twice the boat was swamped, although the guards did all in the power to aid the struggling swimmers. 

   Most of the victims were expert swimmers as no others would venture out in such a sea.  Several were athletes of some experience. 

   Some of the victims entered the water after the first fatalities.

   As man after man went down scenes of near panic took place on the beach.  As relatives were found such crowds gathered around them reporters  and officials had trouble establishing the identity of the lost.  It was as difficult to attempt  to revive the rescued.  

Sidelights on Lake Tragedy


   Attendants at the state bath house warned would-be bathers, many of whom went in anyway, that there was a dangerous sea running with a nasty undertow.  Some of the victims did not go through the bath house but changed in cars and hence might not have been properly warned.  


   Coast Guards warned the public not to go on the pier when the heavy sea was running owing to the danger. 

   “You government officers think you own it, don’t you,” was one thankless reply they received for their pains.  The Coast Guard lookout had witnessed the accident on the pier and the boat was on the way out before  bystanders could turn to signal the station.


   The Fourth saw the a larger crowd than last year at the Oval for what undoubtedly was a record attendance.  The accurate count of the cars by the management was showed over 8,000 automobiles entered the park from 7 a. m. to midnight.  The out pouring was in spite of the morning shower.  The crackerless holiday gave the water added pulling power this year.  When news of the tragedies leaked out more people poured down to the State Park.  Traffic was clogged for hours.  The crowd was 45,000 officials said.


   The regular state force was on duty with two extra life guards.  State police added ten deputies to help untangle traffic . After the first drowning Coast Guards also were on duty.  William H. Loutit, head of the Conservation Department having custody of the state parks, was there for hours.  Officials discussed the advisability of trying to keep everybody out of the water but there was a question of the right or  possibility to enforce such an order.


   Owing to the heavy sea, bad undertow and many warnings there were the fewest bathers at the Oval in many days, despite the enormous crowd on the beach.  Some continued to go in after the bodies were being recovered, however.