Thursday, September 4, 2008

1973: Tragedy on Sandhill

Photo from ACPL CONTENTdm also found in the Journal Gazette, Sunday, April 15, 1973, Page 1A

I've shown you this map before. It's a map of my neighborhood and then some of the names of the families that lived in it during the time I was growing up there.

As I've mentioned in another blog entry, the kids in this neighborhood - well we spent the majority of our time outside. Nature was our playground. The ditches - the trees - the fields - and all other undiscovered territories were ours for the taking.

Something that may have been unique to our neighborhood - I'm not sure. Because each family had a ton of kids, the lines that separated who 'played' with whom was quite blurred. So in other words, I may have been in first grade, but it was socially acceptable for me to hang out with the fourth and fifth graders as long as I wasn't the only first grader in the bunch.

And that's because usually the fourth and fifth graders had younger brothers and sisters which they were obliged to entertain/keep an eye on so we were always in close proximity to one another during play time.

Another factor was that in the early 70's, we all went to the same school - Indian Village Elementary. For a period of time, it was K thru 6th grade, and we all rode the same school bus together.

In April 1973, we all had ants in our pants. We wanted Spring to arrive and the weather had been doing its usual Indiana thing. One day, it would be in the 30's and 40's, the next day it would hit the mid 60's. Once though it made it past 45 degrees, the kids in our neighborhood - well let's just say we were pretty famous for dumping our jackets and coats into a pile once out of the view of our parents. We didn't worry - they'd be in that stack before we returned home. Not like anyone was going to steal a jacket!

Friday, April 6 was a beaaaaaaaaaautiful day. I think it hit the mid 60's and when the bus let us off at our stop that afternoon, we were all about the weekend and playtime.

After walking through the door, kissing my mom hello and dropping off school related stuff, I immediately ran to the garage to pull out my light green, banana-seated bike with its tassels on the bars and the basket in the front. Where was I off to? I was meeting up with some of the kids at the corner of Cedar Crest and Pinecrest. We had some new, undiscovered territory to be charting.

There were mountains behind the houses on North Cedar Crest. Well, they looked like mountains to us. And not only were they great for climbing but they were also great for digging purposes. You could hide things in unusual places. You could even pretend to be an explorer, sandblasting a hidden cave, and finding a treasure that would make you really really rich. (Rich enough that you could buy Andy's gas station grocery store and you could eat all of the free candy you wanted.)

Delores Brouse who lived on Pinecrest was dubbed 'cool' for two reasons. First, she lived right next to one of the ditches and as I mentioned before - that automatically elevated your status in the neighborhood. Second, she was the resident expert about the mountains behind North Cedar Crest. Her dad worked for some construction place (later I found out it was Earth Construction and Engineering located on Engle Road) which was back in that same area, moving the piles of dirt around so that new buildings could be up.

So on that Friday, April 6, about a dozen of us kids set out to the "mountains". Our mission? It wasn't clear initially but within the first ten minutes of being up there, someone threw out the idea of building a 'fort'.

Forts are kind of a big deal to kids. We built them in our bedrooms with blankets and comforters hanging over chairs and tables...we used our toys to stack up walls of protection...I think you get the drift.

So on this fort thing - it wasn't an organized - everyone do a job and create one fort. We broke into smaller groups (without thinking about it), and we proceeded to do our own things. It was a ton of fun. The dirt that made up the mountains was pretty different from the dirt in our own backyard. In our backyard, dirt was pretty hard - and clay like. This dirt was more sandy but had enough strength that we could make it pack together.

When I went home that night, my dad was pissed at me. And he even yelled at my mom. I was dirty, but that wasn't the issue. He was angry that I was up in the "Sand Hill" area. He said it was too dangerous and I was not to go up there again. I even got the belt that night.

Some other kids must have gotten in trouble too because attendance (so I heard) at Saturday's festivities, dropped off. I remember riding my bike with Colleen Wooden, around the circle (i.e. Cedar Crest, Pine Crest, Cedar Crest) and wondering if there was any possible way we'd get in trouble if we just sat in the back yard of of one of the kids who had a house that butted up against the mountain area.

But, we were soon distracted and we ended up hanging out with the Beckstedt boys, playing in their ditch (they also owned prime real estate!).

And soon the whole mountain thing passed from my brain because one thing that I did not do was cross my father (on purpose).

A week later, on Saturday, April 14, there was a knock on our door. A policeman and two neighbors came into our house and I don't think that I've ever been so scared in my life. All I could think of was that I was under arrest (but for what - I wasn't sure). It was cartoon day - that really messes with your brain when someone like a policeman is standing in front of Scooby Doo.

They went in another room with my parents. I couldn't quite make out what was said. But then, I was called in.

insert dramatic music.

My mom, who looked as white as a ghost, called me over.

Kris. You aren't in any trouble. The police are going from house to house in the neighborhood to talk to the kids who played with Delores Brouse up on Sandhill over the past couple of weeks.

I think all of the blood drained out of my body.

They have some questions - can you just answer them. You aren't in trouble. It's important you tell them everything you know and don't worry about being in trouble with me and dad.

Well gee - I better not get in trouble because I had not been back to the mountains since the belt!

So the policeman asked me questions like - what did we do when we were up there? We were building forts. And did I know the location of the forts? Yes, they were up in the mountains. Sorry, I just thought that was funny...adults can be so confusing to kids. He specifically wanted to know - did I know which fort Delores had been working on and where it was located on the mountains?

I did and I drew them my own version of the map. Delores and her 'team' had the more elaborate fort. I think that is because they were "older" and had more experience at this fort building thing.

After my map, my dad and I and the policeman and one of the neighbor men, rode over to the moutain area. There were fire trucks and bulldozers and lots of other things that I'd never seen before. Neighbors, kids, policeman, fireman, other folks were there - tons of people.

It seems that we were all confirming (the kids involved), where the fort was. And why did anyone care? I guess that Delores was missing.

Missing? The first thing I said was, maybe she went home to go to the bathroom. That just tells you how naive I was.

My dad took me home and my Saturday went on, pretty much as normal but me and my sister were not allowed to go outside. My mother thought that it was too chaotic.

Later that day (around supper time), the Davis's (they lived next door to the Brouse's), came over and told us that Delores had been found. She was dead. She had been up on the mountains, playing with two other kids and because the dirt was so sandy, it had collapsed and she had fallen into an area that was hollowed out from fort building. Dirt covered her and she suffocated. She could not get out. They say she had tried, but she couldn't gain enough traction.

Delores Irene Brouse was 12 years old and in fifth grade at Indian Village Elementary School.

It was the first major death in my life that I ever had to deal with. For several nights, I would wake-up, trying to catch my breath because I was dreaming that I was suffocating.

When I went back to Fort Wayne in May, I went by the area - the first time ever - and thought back through the events of April 1973. The area is well developed with tons of roads and established businesses. It wasn't difficult though, for me to look down at the houses on North Cedar Crest and then to quickly visualize where our mountains were and where specifically the forts were built.

I was sad, of course, but then, I thought about how thankful I was that my dad did what he did. Not that I advocate the use of a belt :) but he got his point across to me. And literally, it probably saved my life.


ida said...

i am so sorry that this happened when you were young. made me want to cry also. God bless.

Sheila said...

My cousin Diane Short lived on Pincrest around that time. I lived in the trailer park on Sandpoint and right now I'm wondering how it is that I can't remember this event. So tragic. As for the belt, I'm not an advocate of that either, but I do think most parents don't discipline enough these days.

Carl H. said...

As for the belt - discipline is discipline. It seems that everyone has a "better" way to dish it out. But in fact - well look at the disrepect shown by kids now that we have been "enlightened" to a better way to discipline. Well ENOUGH of my soapboxin' now!!!

I remember that weekend very well. Because we lived on the 'other' side of Sandpoint road, we rarely played in 'that' territory. We had 'The Dunes' for our playground. The ground was just the same as 'The Hill' as we knew it. Fortunately for us, the ground was much flatter, or else we could have been in the same situation as Delores.

Afte news of that spread, we we afraid to dig in our dunes anymore. In fact myself and another friend, went to our underground 'forts' and filled them in to the point that nothing could collapse.

As if her tragedy isn't enough, a few years later, another kid was killed in the same method. But he was playing in the flat area of the May Stone & Sand storage area. In the late 70's this area was right behind the Elmhurst Little Leagues' Major League diamond. Now it is part of FWCS's bus parking lot.
I knew the boy that died, and we were even on the same baseball team a year or two before he died. Shannon was his name, but I can't remember his last name right now. I do remember that his dad had lost part of his leg in Vietnam and that he had a temper. Shannon was a MUCH better baseball player than most of us, and I think his dad had high hopes of him going into the pro's.

But anyway, we made it through our childhood virtually unscathed - even without bicycle helmets!

Thanks for the memory Kris!!

ida said...

i remember the kid that past away at may stone and sand. i am thinking that what happened to deloras made my parents the way they were when we got a bad snow storm one year. the were pretty nasty about me playing on one of the big snow piles that the trucks would make to clear the streets. i never did get a razor strap for that but i did for another thing and i felt the same way you did.
they annoxed springwood addition into the city on the north side of town. and built a new elementry school near it for the kids to walk. also a new middle school. the short cut was threw the playground at the end of springwood. (it isnt there anymore)and it was pretty lonely back there. my mom didnt want me to use it becouse of the big boys back there hanging out. i used it one time and she beat my butt with the razor strap so bad. i had to take the offical route becouse they had a patrol back there and it was offical. now we were on near a corner lot and she could see what way i came home. one day the neighbor girl on the corner went the short route and wanted me to come i said no my mom will be waiting there and will beat my butt. well her and her sister went without me. i beat them home. i took the offical route. my mom and their mom was waiting for me. where were the girls. i dont know. what way did they take. the short cut. why didnt you go. my mom would beat me with the razor strap. i was sent into the house. the cops came. i was ticked off thinking i was going to be in trouble. before dark the cops had found the girls and brought them home. nothing was said. the mom drove them to school every day and back. they moved. we moved soon after. sigh. wow. that hurt just writing it. God bless and know that you are in my prayers. btw my story happened in 73 or 74. times were tough back then too. they just didnt talk about them.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this tonight, October 5, 2016.

I remember that day very well. I was riding my bike on the trails behind the Kekionga Junior High athletic fields, which was one of my favorite hangouts in those days. It was kind of a construction wasteland as I remember it, probably not unlike the sand hill behind Cedar Crest. From the top of the hill you could ride down at great speed and go flying over earthen ramps that had been built up by the neighborhood kids.

I think it was just before noon or so when there were sirens and a large number of emergency vehicles passing by over on Engle road, then down Sandhill or Genth or whatever that road was called at the time alongside the tracks -- the name seemed to have changed a couple of times and I think it's just called Kyle Road all the way now.

Anyway, I was half tempted to go see what all the ruckus was about. Instead I went home and had lunch. Later that day I learned that Delores had died. She had been one of my classmates at Indian Village since the second grade, Mrs. Long's class. I think this must have happened in our fifth grade year, if I remember correctly. Mr. Walters was our teacher.

I remember it affected me a lot. Another girl from that neighborhood had died only a few years earlier, Holly Stephens, who was a year behind me. Cancer I think, though they didn't talk about it much. They didn't do grief counseling for kids in school back then the way they do now. It didn't get talked about much by the adults, but it was a very sad and scary time for some of us.

Delores was buried in Fountain City in Wayne County, near Richmond, where her family was from. I didn't go to the funeral. Our families didn't know each other that well. But I remember everything about that time very vividly because it was such a shock. As for the bike trails behind Kekionga, I think they fell out of favor after that for fear that tragedy could happen there too.