Drunk in the River

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Ross Durst was a retired Akron University professor of engineering. He wrote many local history stories for the Falls News. He had one, however, that related his own personal experience in the 1920s – Drunk in the River:

All of my previous stories have been of people or events of long ago. As a change of pace it has occurred to me that some of our readers might enjoy a little humor – especially since it was at my own expense.

Sometime in the late 1920’s I was conducting a class in Engineering Geology at the University of Akron. Several field trips were required as a part of the course. On these trips we collected rock specimens and studied the effects of erosion, weathering and other natural phenomena. One of the favorite trips was up to the Gorge, above the powerhouse and on the east side of the river. Here nature has laid bare many of her secrets of processes that have taken thousands of years to complete.

The particular trip of which I write took place on a warm, sunshiny afternoon in the late spring. The class rode a streetcar from downtown Akron on the North Hill line to its turn-around point (now occupied by Swenson’s Drive-In).

There was a narrow ledge alongside the powerhouse. A high fence had been built across this ledge but it had been torn down and no one challenged our entrance. The land on both sides of the Gorge at that time was owned by the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company (NOT&L). It was private property and was considered dangerous terrain.

By the late afternoon we had reached the end of our trip – the north end of the old Chuckery aqueduct. The members of the class were all from Akron and planned to return by the same route they came. Since I lived in the Falls, I planned t make my exit about mid point by means of an old Indian ladder which someone had constructed by suspending a stout steel cable from a tree on the top of the cliff – at least 100 feet above the river. It swayed dizzily as one climbed but I had used it many times.

However, just before turning back I met with a mishap. I stepped on a slippery rock and landed in the river which was about hip-deep at that point. No great harm was done ex, as the river was still comparatively clean. It did call for a change in plans. Since I was already completely soaked I decided to proceed upstream by wading the river, hoping to find a spot where the banks were shallow enough to permit scaling. There being no path on either side of the river, I made my way straight up the middle of the stream.

When I came within sight of the Glens bridge a pedestrian on the bridge caught sight of me, stopped short and peered down in amazement. Soon he was joined by others until the bridge was crowded from bank to bank. I heard the faint wail of a siren. I learned later that someone had called the police and told them that a “drunk” was floundering about in the river and in danger of drowning. When the police arrived they could only join the spectators. I heard shouts from above but could not distinguish the words as the sounds bounced from rock to rock.

As I looked up at the crowd, the effect was about the same as looking at people on a 12th story balcony. The forms were visible but the faces were blank. By the same token, no one could recognize me. As I passed under the bridge, a rope dangled 10 feet above my head. I could not have escaped that route even if I had desired to do so – which I did not.

As I proceeded upstream past the bridge, the crowd merely shifted to the other side and continued to watch, until I passed out of sight. Opposite one of the old Walsh Paper Company buildings I spotted a pair of dilapidated wooden stairs leading to the top of the bank.

As I emerged from the top of the stairs, I came face to face with a policeman. He had a police ccar standing by  presumably to cart me off to jail where I could “sleep it off”. My bedraggled appearance must have made my explanations sound weird. However, he could think of no ordinance that I had violated. After I told him that I was a good friend of his sergeant, he accepted my story. As a final precaution, he peeked into the field bag which I was carrying. It contained only rock samples and a rock hammer.

Most of the spectators had long since dispersed but a few had followed the police car. Fortunately, none of my friends or acquaintances were among the hangers-on. I made my way home [1995 Germaine St] by back alleys and side streets. Again, I was lucky, I met no one I knew. The few strangers I met glanced at me curiously but made no comment.

As to the afore-mentioned sergeant, he and I enjoyed many a chuckle whenever we discussed my most embarrassing moment.

~ Ross Durst 1888-1993