Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17, 1950 -- Drama at the Lake Shore Drive Bridge

August 17, 1950 – A homeless Navy veteran, James Wagster, 45, leaps into the Chicago River from the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, setting in motion a remarkable series of events that ultimately save him from death.  Birdell Grant, 28, comes upon Wagster as he stands on the bridge, looking down at the water.  Grant, just released from the prison at Statesville and having been rejected for jobs at 25 places, asks Wagster for directions to an office where he could apply for work as a stevedore.  Wagster’s answer is a question . . . he asks Grant if he has a drink on him.  When Grant replies that he dioes not, Wagster announces that he is going to get one and jumps from the bridge.  Grant, who suffers from a bone ailment for which he has undergone five operations, runs down the bridge stairs to the water’s edge, removing his shirt and shoes on the way, and jumps in the water, suffering cramps just as he reaches Wagster.  Two passing motorists hear the commotion and they, too, jump in the water and swim 60 yards to the two men.  By that time the two bridge tenders, Jack Northrup and Leo Loughran, toss life preservers to the men and a Coast Guard boat arrives to help all four men ashore.  In his efforts Grant loses his last 15 cents;  one of the bridge tenders gives him money for his transportation back home.  Wearing only shorts and wrapped in a police blanket, Wagster, when asked in South State Street Court why he had jumped, tells the judge, “Judge, I must be crazy.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1950]

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