Henry’s Heroics


“Girl Revived After Going to Bottom of Lake,” read the headline on the front page of the July 22, 1935 Wakefield Daily Item.

“Presence of mind exercised by her male companion,” the story reported, “and prompt work by the Wakefield Police with the inhalator saved the life of Miss Mildred Bickerton, 21, of 881 Huntington Ave., Boston, last evening in Lake Quannapowitt, after she had sunk to the bottom of the pond.”

Mildred’s “male companion” was Henry Bagwell. Henry and my mother, Rita (Blaney) Sardella were first cousins who grew up in the same two-family house at 9 King Terrace in the Irish American enclave of Roxbury (Boston), Massachusetts. Henry’s mother was Mary (Blaney) Bagwell, sister of my grandfather, John Blaney, my mother’s father.

Henry’s father was Michael Bagwell, born about 1875 in Ireland. He and Mary Blaney, born July 6, 1873 in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, married in Boston in 1906. Henry was born March 18, 1914.

Henry was 21 years old on that July day when he and Mildred Bickerton made the trip from Boston to Wakefield for a day at Lake Quannapowitt. In the first half of the 20th century, Wakefield was a popular destination for summer day trips by city dwellers seeking to escape the urban heat. An easy train trip and a short walk was all it took for city folk to enjoy a cool day of swimming in Lake Quannapowitt.

“Miss Bickerton and Hery Bagwell of 778 Parker St., Roxbury, had been swimming off the Spaulding Street bath house,” the Daily Item story continued, “using a boat from the Wakefield Boat House.

“Mr Bagwell told police that they had been tossing a large water ball and that it hit Miss Bickerton in the head. He asked her if she was hurt and she replied that she was not, but swam over to their boat and grasped the side of it to rest.

“Mr. Bagwell said that a minute later he looked around and called and she was missing. He immediately sensed what had happened and dove to the bottom of the pond, bringing her up, unconscious.

“With the assistance of Arthur Philbrook she was put in the boat and rushed to the boathouse where Robert Parker of 24 Salem St. applied the prone method of resuscitation until Sgt. John G. Gates arrived with the police inhalator,” the Daily Item story concluded. “Dr. E. H. Wells assisted and in about a half an hour the young woman was restored to consciousness and taken to the Melrose Hospital for treatment and rest for the night.”

In later years, Henry would have occasion to return many times to the town of his youthful heroics. My mother met Stephen Sardella of Wakefield in the late 1940s and they were married in 1950, settling in Wakefield. Henry and my mother remained close throught their lives, so Henry had lots of opportunities to revisit the town where he saved the life of Mildred Bickerton so many years earlier.

No one knows what became of Mildred. Two years after the incident at the lake, Henry married Mary Moriarty on September 16, 1937. They had three children, Richard “Dick” Bagwell, Francis Patrick Bagwell and Maryellen Bagwell.
Henry and Mary Bagwell

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