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Highland Park 'life savers,' handyman rescued 10

Lake Forest CollegeChicago Board of Trade

Lake Michigan appeared frozen solid along the North Shore in the winter of 1899. The lake's frozen appearance masked the fact that ice thickness ranged from as deep as three feet to razor thin. The lake's waves pulsed under those who ventured on the ice to skate, stroll or capture the frozen beauty in a photograph. Occasionally, waves caused ice floes to break off the expanse like glass vitrines.

Accounts vary about how Lake Forest residents, chiefly young men from Lake Forest College, and Rogers Park "kodakers" found themselves on an ice floe drifting southward past the bluffs of Fort Sheridan on a February Sunday afternoon. Rescuers from Lake Forest, Evanston, Fort Sheridan and Chicago answered distress calls from bystanders on the shore. Failed efforts recurred throughout Sunday night into Monday morning, leaving 10 frostbitten young men floating through icy slush and splinters. Others went missing, presumed lost.

What is incontrovertible is that three men of diverse backgrounds risked their lives to bring 10 stranded lads back to shore after even Fort Sheridan Army rescue teams turned back.

Early Monday afternoon Fred Perryman, physician Milton Baker and Chicago Board of Trade member Lewis O. Van Riper launched a small shallow draft boat -- Van Riper's steam launch was in dry dock for winter repairs -- and made their way toward the stranded youths. Perryman, secured with a rope, jumped from one ice block to the next until he reached the drifting ice island.

Baker, the first graduate of Highland Park High School, and Van Riper were active participants in the Highland Park and associated Young Men's Athletic Clubs. Both were considered experienced live savers "on call" along the shore.

At 8:30 p.m., after a perilous journey returning two miles through and over ice with an overloaded boat, the three rescuers and 10 strandees arrived safely on the shores of Highland Park.

At 37 years of age, Devonshire, England-born Perryman was years older than Baker and Van Riper. He worked for a family on Moraine Road as the live-in "hired man" and was not a participant in Highland Park club life. His first acquaintance with Baker and Van Riper occurred as he offered to help with the rescue.

In April 1899, Highland Park residents awarded all three men medals of bravery to recognize their successful life-saving efforts.

In 1968, Mary Perryman donated her father's medal to the Highland Park Historical Society so that his bravery would not be forgotten.

Webster is the archivist at the Highland Park Historical Society. This article was written using resources in the society's Archives and Research Collections, funded in part by Henry X Arenberg Archives Preservation Fund. Visit highlandparkhistory.com for more information.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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