Charles R. E. Bowles" Personal Account


Human Frog Proves Himself A Hero

The star hero of them all - a 17-year-old volunteer diver who explored the hull of the Eastland, where professional divers refused to go, and between morning and dark brought to the surface forty victims - is Charles R. E. Bowles.

"The Human Frog," as he was called by the veterans who marveled at his exploits, worked from morning until dark, and even then would not quit his self-imposed task until, exhausted, he was forcibly placed in Major Funkhouser's automobile and taken from the scene of the tragedy.

Young Bowles is the son of the Western Union wire chief and resides at 3812 North Springfield avenue. He is an expert swimmer and possesses remarkable courage.

When only 11 years old he rescued two companions from drowning and a year ago saved a baby from a burning building at Sixty-third and Halsted streets.

A friend who was among the eye-witnesses of the Eastland tragedy telephoned to Bowles at his automobile repair shop at 3958 Springfield avenue. Bowles and his brother, Berwyn, hurried to the Clark street bridge on a motorcycle.

The oxy-acetylene torch men already had begun to cut into the hull when Bowles arrived. He lost no time in putting on bathing trunks and was among the first to enter the murky water in the hull of the death ship, working without such apparatus as the professionals had.

Although warned repeatedly, he dived into remote parts of the ship, seldom coming to the surface without the body of one of the victims. Throughout the day he labored and was on hand again the next morning as soon as it was light enough for him again to enter the ship.

Several times during the day Major Funkhouser advised him to let others carry on the work, but he stuck doggedly to his task until dusk.

Then, almost unconscious from fatigue, he reached the surface and grasped an iron rod. His fingers slipped from their hold. Had not a naval reserve man clutched him the hero's name would have been added to the death toll.

Major Funkhouser then ordered that Bowles be carried to his auto and drove him to the detective bureau, where he was given hot coffee and wrapped in a blanket.

"Just let me rest a bit and I'll go back," he pleaded.

The major smiled and shook his head.

"It wasn't much," Bowles added. "I can stand it when the professional divers cannot, because they keep stimulating themselves with whiskey and the effect wears off, but I don't touch it."

"I want to go on with the work, because I know where there are several bodies. There are three or four under a steel plate that fell in when the men were cutting out sections, and there is another - the body of a woman - wedged under an ice box. I will be back tomorrow."

Physicians warned Bowles against further efforts, as they fear pneumonia or typhoid will set in.

Most of the bodies Bowles recovered were those of women and children. On one trip he brought back two bodies - a mother clasping her baby rigidly to her breast.



Copyright © Ft. Dodge Daily Chronicle reprinted from the Ft. Dodge Daily Chronicle

Get Involved