Mr. McGowan’s Hat

In July of 1910, attorney George McGowan rented a cottage for the month on Skaneateles Lake. He was a founding partner of M’Gowan & Stolz, served as Deputy District Attorney for the City of Syracuse and taught law at Syracuse University. Mr. McGowan had been suffering from attacks of dizziness, and just the week before had fallen down at the corner of South Salina and West Onondaga in Syracuse. Perhaps it was felt that a month of rest would do him good. Mr. McGowan, his wife Julia, and their two children moved into the Patten cottage on the Fulton farm, about three miles from the village, on the east side of the lake.

But on July 5th, readers of the local papers were shocked with this news:

“George McGowan, 51 years old, one of the best known lawyers of Syracuse, was drowned in Skaneateles Lake, Tuesday morning. He had rowed from his cottage to get a pail of water in the deep part of the lake. Neighbors discovered the boat capsized and Mr. McGowan’s hat floating on the water. His body has not been recovered.”

The McGowan’s maid saw McGowan take three pails and go out in the boat to get drinking water (far from the shoreline privies, I assume). Here the accounts diverge. One newspaper reported that neighbors saw the boat capsized; another said the maid saw the boat empty, but with two full pails of water on board. But everyone saw the hat.

The newspapers reported, “Mrs. McGowan was prostrated by the news. The undertakers were at once sent for.”

The recovery of a body at this time was apparently an indelicate process. More than one boat was at work, dragging with grappling hooks, and arrangements had been made for dynamite and a diver. Mercifully, before explosives could be used (to free the body from weeds), the men from M. Ryan and Sons (undertakers from Syracuse) found the body at 4 p.m., and brought it to the surface with ropes.

The body was taken to the McGowan home in Syracuse and the funeral was held there. Our coroner, George R. Kinne, ruled the death accidental. Mr. McGowan could not swim.

* * *

Auburn Journal, July 5, 1910 ; New York Times, July 6, 1910; “The Body of Attorney George M’Gowan Found in Skaneateles Lake” Syracuse Post-Standard, July 6, 1910 ; “Coroner Says M’Gowan Drowning Accidental” Syracuse Daily Journal, July 6, 1910; photo from Notable Men of Central New York (1903) by Dwight Stoddard, ed.

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