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Lost In the Hudson

Recently I was putting together information for some upcoming column by reading though old newspapers in the Nyack Library History room when I can across a story of a little boy drowning in the Hudson River.

It didn’t take long for memories to come flooding back to me. I remember the drowning—I knew the little boy. It was a very long time ago; suddenly I recalled memories I’d suppressed for decades.

My dad was late for dinner; not something that happened often unless the fire whistle blew late in the afternoon. He was quiet as he stood at the kitchen sink washing up for dinner. We sat down to eat, and he was still quiet, so was my mother. Finally he asked, “Do you know Tommy Steen?”
“Yes,” I answered, “he lives down on Depot Place, we play together sometimes. Why?”
“He fell through the ice on the Hudson River. He was riding on his sled near Memorial Park. What about John Hayden?”
“John lives on Franklin Street, near my best friend, are they all right?”
“John fell into the Hudson trying to rescue Tommy. Fire Patrol got a ladder in the ice and he climbed out of the water. Tommy didn’t make it. The firemen haven’t found his body yet.”

Tommy Steen and his buddies, the Galganio brothers, Tommy and Paul, took their sleds down to the river about one o’clock on a cold Saturday afternoon, January 19, 1957. Ice on the Hudson River looked to be about ten inches, Tommy Galganio later told rescuers. The buddies went out the river ice several hundred feet south of Memorial Park. They made their way up to where the new barges form the enclosure for the little bay at the park’s river bank. There they met John Hayden who was putting on his ice-skates. The boys headed out on the river ice, skating and sledding. When they almost reached the open water the ice was clear and great for skating John later said. While they were there, Tommy Steen’s pants ripped. Steen and Paul Galganio started back towards the park. John skated part way in pulling Tommy Galganio on his sled, then left him and skated out on the ice again.
He got part way out, when he heard the Galganio boys calling “Tommy’s fallen in!” Young Hayden skated back toward them. On the way he skated over thin ice, leaped over more, skated further, then fell through ice about 75 feet away from Tommy Steen, who had gone into the water about ten feet from the barges. John fell straight in, but the air in his jacked helped to buoy him up.

The Galganio brothers ran towards the Powell boatyard for help as John clung to the underside of the ice with his skates. He tried rolling himself up on the ice, but it kept breaking. He couldn’t pull himself out. He could see Tommy Steen in the water and kept calling to encourage him. He watched him bobbing up and down; saw his small bare hands trying to grip the ice; saw him disappear after clinging to the frigid rim for at least ten minutes. His heavy winter boots and the rip in his pants made it difficult for Tommy to stay up.

Firemen arrived; Chief Lynn Clapper ordered Fire Patrol’s rescue boat to be pushed out on the ice as members of Chelsea Hook & Ladder pushed their wooden ladders across the ice to form a rescue bridge.
A ladder was put into the water and John Hayden climbed out. He was carried to shore and transported to Nyack Hospital. Fireman in the rescue boat began using pike poles hoping to bring up the little boy’s body.

Next day a professional diver, Bernard Sweeney, from Brooklyn, came to Nyack and volunteered to enter the river in search of Tommy. About forty minutes after he entered the water, he found Tommy. Standing on the shore was his father, Walter. He stood a lonely vigil along the Hudson since he was told his boy disappeared beneath the ice. Walter stood watching the diver, his hands clutching for support that wasn’t there. He watched efforts to crack the ice. He talked to Bernard Sweeney. His eyes kept searching through the dim mist of early afternoon, scanning the ice and water through the fog, hoping that if he kept looking long enough, he eyes would find what they sought. He was waiting as the diver brought his little boy to the river bank. He wrapped his coat around Tommy, trying to make him warm.

My dad and I turned and walked away. “C’mon” said pop,” I think Walt wants to be alone with his son.”

The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’