Event Person Place

The Tragedy of Earl Holloway and James Sparks

“Failing to find the bodies of Earl Holloway, 23, and James Sparks, 21, of Carey’s Run, who relatives believe drowned in backwaters of the Ohio river, Friday, city firemen abandoned the search Saturday night. Relatives of the men said they will resume the search Sunday morning.”

Fire Chief Robert Leedom said firemen searched every section of the old river bed without finding trace of the bodies. If the men drowned their bodies were either carried out into the Ohio river or are caught in a hole the firemen were unable to locate, Leedom said.”

“The firemen risked their lives several time Saturday afternoon in the search. They dragged the old river bed in the rear of Lindbergh inn on the A&P highway1 about two miles west of the city.”

“A ditch about four feet deep runs through the old bed. Several times the firemen stepped into the ditch and plunged into water over their heads. Eight men joined hands and ‘combed’ the pool while three boat crews dragged the deeper sections.”

Screenshot of the Barton & Gibbs 1875 Map of Scioto County, Ohio showing the location of the “Old Bed” of the Scioto River.2

“The missing men left their homes about 9 AM Friday clad in ragged overalls, old shirts and badly worn shows to catch fish in the old river bed. Both carried pitchforks.”

“Samuel Knauff of Carey’s run, said he let the men ride to the intersection of the old river road and A&P highway and said they started towards the old bed. That is the last time they were seen.”

“Chester Polk, Mrs. Alice Hall and Mrs. Rose Turner said they heard cries for help in the vicinity of the old bed about 1PM Friday.”

Samuel Noel said he saw two men wading and apparently wrestling in the water about 1PM Friday.”

“When the men failed to return home, relatives enlisted the aid of Sheriff Al Bridwell3 and city firemen.”

“Mrs. Nancy Sparks, mother of James Sparks and Mrs. Nannie Holloway, wife of Earl Holloway, said they are convinced the men drowned. Both women declared the men would have returned home Friday afternoon if they had not met with disaster.”

“Relatives said they traced their tracks to the water’s edge. The water was about 20 feet in placed Friday and fell about four feet overnight.”

“The pitchforks could not be located. Some claimed the fork would float while others said they will not float. Some said that if they would float they were carried out to the river.4

“Bodies of Earl Holloway, 23, and James Sparks, 21, of Carey’s run who drowned Friday while giggling fish in backwaters of Ohio river were recovered at noon Friday.”

“The bodies were found beached in horseweeds about 300 yards south of Lindbergh inn, two miles west of the city.”

“The high water receded Sunday night and left the bodies among thick weeds, six feet high.”

“Mrs. Nannie Sparks, mother of James Sparks, was first to discover the bodies. She was walking through the horseweeds alone, searching for her son when she found a pitchfork. A few feet away she saw her son’s body.”

“Overcome by grief she retreated from the scene and called for help. William Lucas of A&P highway, Everett Ratcliff and Frank Millison of Carey’s run responded. Lucas located Spark’s body and about 15 minutes later discovered the body of Holloway. Both pitchforks used by the men to gig fish were found near the bodies.”

“More than a score of relatives and friends of the victims were combing the bottoms for their bodies when teh discovery was made.”

“Discovery of the bodies solved the mystery of the men’s disappearance. While relatives were convinced the men met death by drowning, their fate was not determined until the bodies were discovered.”

“The place where the bodies were discovered was under water Saturday and Sunday and was not dragged by searchers because of the high weeds.”

“Reconstruction of the tragedy Monday showed the men walked on the old river road and then north through the fields to gig fish. They walked about about 75 yards north of the road, where they apparently became entangled in the horseweeds.”

“Another theory revealed by position of the bodies indicated Sparks suffered cramps and that Holloway gave his life in an effort to save his companion. Although he only had one arm, Holloway was said to have been a good swimmer and often swam the Ohio river.”

“Sparks’ legs and arms were ‘drawn,’ indicating he suffered cramps. The place they were found is low and the men might have stepped into deep water without warning, searchers said.”

“Samuel Knauff of Carey’s run was the last man to see the fishermen alive. They rode in his automobile to the intersection of the river road and the A and P highway and started to walk the old river road.”

“Calls for help were heard on A and P highway about 1 PM Friday, but persons hearing the cries did not investigate, claiming they were calling to one another when fish were sighted.”

“The bodies were moved to McKenzie funeral home.”

“Holloway is survived by his parent’s, Alfred Holloway of Carey’s run and Mrs. Holloway of Cincinnati, the widow, Mrs. Nannie Holloway of Carey’s run, and two sisters, Mrs. Fred Horsley5 of Carey’s run and Mrs. Maggie Traylor of Oliver, Kentucky, and one brother Thomas Holloway of Slocum station. He was married November 16, 1931.

“Sparks is survived by his mother, Mrs. Nancy Sparks of Carey’s run and the following brothers and sisters, Goldie, Nannie, Catherine and Garland at home, Emory of London, Ohio, Mrs. Lizzie Gilbert of Fifth street, city, and Mrs. Mark Foster of Carey’s run.”6

“A double funeral service for James Sparks, 21, and Earl Holloway, 23, of Carey’s run, who drowned in the backwater of Ohio river, was held at Carey’s run cemetery at 6:30 PM Monday.”

“Having lived as neighbors, companions together and drowned together, the men were buried in single graves, side by side.”

“They drowned Friday while gigging fish south of Lindbergh inn, two miles west of the city.”

“The bodies were found beached among high horseweeds Monday noon, where receding waters left them. Condition of the bodies made immediate burial necessary.”

“Mrs. Nannie Sparks, mother of James Sparks, discovered the bodies while searching for her son.”

“Coroner Virgil E Fowler gave a verdict of accidental drowning. As there were no eye-witnesses, cause of the drowning will never be known.”

“Fowler said Sparks’ body indicated he might have suffered cramps and that Holloway gave his life in an effort to save his companion.”

“Another theory advanced by Fire Chief Robert R Leedom is that the men waded in the field looking for fish when they reached deep water, decided to swim across the deep pool, rather than walk around the water. In their attempt to swim, the men probably became entangled in the horseweeds and drowned, Leedom said.”7

  1. Atlantic & Pacific Highway
  2. Barton & Gibbs. (1875) Map of Scioto County, Ohio
    . Cincinnati, O.: Strobridge & Co. Lith. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007633933/.
  3. Albert Henry Bridwell
  4. Fail To Find Missing Men. (1932, July 10). Portsmouth Sunday Times, p. 4.
  5. Lyda May Holloway Stanley
  6. Receding Water Reveal 2 Bodies of Carey’s Run Men. (1932, July 11). Portsmouth Times, pp. 1–11.
  7. Double Funeral Held For Back Water Victims. (1932, July 12). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.