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Dr. Paul Schiller, In Memoriam

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  • Dr. Paul Schiller, In Memoriam

    Hi all…
    I got in a bunch of old Ski and Ski Illustrated mags from the 1940s a couple of weeks ago, and, to my delight (well, delight might be the wrong word, given the subject matter, but I’m generally delighted when I find old stories and accounts of anything Tux-related), there was the following eye-witness account, written by a Mr. Pepe Casanova, about the rescue attempt and later sad recovery of Dr. Paul Schiller. Most of us who have studied the history of the Ravine know vaguely what happened to Dr. Schiller, but this account will give you a detailed insight that will make your hair stand on end. Schiller fell while skiing in the Lip area, sliding over the rock which has ever since bore his name, namely the rock over which spills the Falls of a Thousand Streams, as it’s titled on many old postcards. We know it as that big waterfall that opens up every spring just to the left (skier’s right) of The Lip. His was the third skier death in the Ravine (John Neal – 4/7/43 and Phyliss Wilbur – 5/31/48; the historical record does not show whether Grace Sturgess was skiing on 5/23/36 when she was killed in the Ravine by falling ice; if so, then Schiller was #4). What follows is that account as it appeared (verbatim – sorry English professors!) in Ski Magazine, dated November 15, 1949.
    The accident happened on May 1, 1949, sixty years ago today.
    It is in his memory that this story is recounted.
    RIP Paul.

    On a Sunday…Tragedy Travels on Hickory Boards

    A rescue party sets out to save the life of a fellow skier. Treacherous Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire is the scene. Heroism becomes the everyday affair when a man’s life is at stake. This is an account of the hardiness and endurance of skiers in danger.

    By Pepe Casanova

    Sunday: Up at 6:30 a.m. Breakfast 7. On trail 8:30. David Abrahams started first. Bill Dutton could not find his glasses, so I left alone. Made wrong turn into brook. Shouldn’t be total loss: took pictures. Back on trail; tried to take own picture by setting camera on rock. Man with strong German accent came along. Offered to take picture and suggested close-up. Believe he was Dr. Paul Schiller.

    Never saw him at camp again.

    Arrived at Appalachian Mountain Club hut (better known as Howard Johnson’s) Tuckerman Ravine ski shelter about 11 a.m. Rested. Changed boots. Up to Ravine about noon. Skied until 1 p.m.

    Had lunch with Jack Dutton and joined Dave Abrahams at rock about middle of left wall under Chimney. (Harkin: Perhaps The Chute?)

    Dave brought my attention to three skiers on top of right head wall, man on extreme left (later identified as Dr. Paul Schiller) tried to turn, and fell. Slid about 75 feet on snow into rocks over which water was flowing from under snow, forming a fast-flowing brook and then waterfalls about 20 feet high. The base of the falls created a crevasse between snow and rocks.

    We hoped for a moment that Schiller would be able to stop himself on the rocks, but a few seconds later we saw him catapulted into the air.

    Again, a split second of hope that he would clear the crevasse and land on the Ravine.

    His arms and legs were wide apart as he rode over the falls, but with a terrified scream he disappeared into the crevasse.

    Word quickly spread and in less than five minutes the two skiers that were on the “lip” of the Ravine and other skiers, including the amazing little Fellow Ernie Yanakakis, Carr, Duclas, Fritz Weissner were at the crevasse trying to locate Schiller. They heard moans but got no answer to their calls.

    Word got to Paul Lange and Bill Putnam, chief of the White Mountain Ski Patrol, who always skis in cowboy outfit, including Stetson hat. From the crevasse they tried to reach him with rope with no results.

    They then decided to tunnel through the snow about 20 feet below the crevasse to see if they could locate Schiller. In the meantime, nearly all the skiers got in line about 10 feet apart from each other forming a chain the 1000feet of the head wall. When the rescuers called down for shovels word was passed down to the bottom of the Ravine and on to the shelter at the top of the Little Headwall. The shovels were relayed to the top of the Ravine, each skier climbing 10 feet as fast as he could and passing the shovels to the next skier.

    End of Part One, Stay Tuned....
    Fools run schuss where angels fear to stem.

  • #2
    Part Two
    On a Sunday, Tragedy Travels on Hickory Boards
    By Pepe Casanova

    We heard the call down for blankets and wondered whether they had found Schiller. Bill, Dave and I had witnessed all this from the left wall probably 120 yards as the crow flies from the crevasse.

    I took a few pictures from there in color. I put a roll of black and white film in the camera and decided that, tired as I was from climbing and skiing, I would ski over to the right wall. The distance around the wall is probably 350 yards, but it seemed like a mile to me. I stopped several times, dug my skis and poles into the snow, carefully removed my pack, took the camera out, took a picture, put the camera in the pack and slung it back over my shoulder.

    I describe this operation minutely because each time I did it my heart was in my mouth and my knees were literally shaking.

    One slip and I would go head over heels down the Ravine.

    Finally, I was close enough to see the men working at the crevasse and learned the reason for the blankets. The rescuers were taking turns at the tunnel but the spray from the falls was so great that they were all soaking wet. As the water was formed by melting snow its temperature was not more than 35 degrees. Those fellows showed terrific courage. Not a moment was lost. As soon as one could stand the cold no longer he was immediately replaced and wrapped in a blanket to warm up.

    I climbed another 20 feet higher; took pictures (each time going through procedure previously described, plus cramps in thighs). Climbed another 15 feet and, fortunately, found a good excuse for not climbing higher. The spray from the falls was getting me wet and it was impossible to take pictures any closer without the danger of ruining the camera and film in it. So with my heart in my mouth and plenty of vorlage I traversed the whole of Tuckerman’s Ravine in one run. Could not have taken more than 45 seconds. It was now 4 p.m. We were convinced Schiller could not be alive. Even though he survived the fall into the ice and rocks he could not have survived the icy water that was continuously pouring over him. As the sun dropped in back of the mountain the boys gave up the search for the day. We rested again at the shelter and it was a sad bunch that climbed down the mountain to Pinkham Notch. Until now, nobody knew who the victim was. We heard that some Boston papers had the news.

    Those of us whose families might be worried ‘phoned home. About 11 p.m., Roger Frost informed Joe Dodge, the head of the camp, that his roommate, Dr. Paul Schiller had not returned.

    Some reporters arrived at Pinkham Notch to get the story. When we told them it would take them probably two hours to climb to the shelter and another hour to the foot of the Ravine they said “nothing doing,” and sat down in the cozy cabin and wrote the story of treacherous trails.

    Just as we arrived at the shelter the rescue party arrived from the Ravine with the news that they had recovered the body.

    Took pictures of rescue party. Dodged ‘phoned for another fresh crew to bring body from the top of Little Headwall. Seven boys came up. I went as far as I could and waited on the right side of the Little Headwall which at this time of year is divided by roaring river which must be crossed in order to reach the Ravine. The boys crossed and went up left side and disappeared in fog.

    Half hour later re-appeared carefully picking way down trail carrying or dragging stretcher. Took pictures on trail and crossing river. Amazing boys. Some had on only sneakers, blue jeans and sweaters. Although temperature was not cold, snow and water were. Took last picture as boys held conference how to get body through woods.

    End of Story

    I’m not sure of why the story ended there so abruptly with no wrap-up. Still, it’s a riveting account of one of the most horrific tales in Tuckerman’s history. I’ve got to believe that those pictures are still sitting in a closet somewhere. In rather a wild goose chase effort to find them, I’ve called several of the Casanovas in the northeast with the help of the internet’s white pages, and left messages to contact me, in case any of them are descendents of the writer. I’ve yet to hear back from any of them. It would be a great historical find, without a doubt.
    Fools run schuss where angels fear to stem.

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks J, that was an amazing story. Great find!

      Rob
      Go for adventure, take pix, but make certain to bring'em back alive!

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      • #4
        Great historical account- Every year i look at that waterfall open up and wonder. Thanks for sharing such a significant piece.

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        • #5
          A fascinating and haunting postscript to the death of Dr. Schiller, one that I remember reading about years ago, and sent me to my bookcase when I saw this post this morning, involves the similar skiing death of Cheryl Weingarten in 1994.

          From Nicholas Howe's Not Without Peril, 150 Years of Misadventure in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire "That waterfall forms every spring and a trace of it usually remains in summer, just to the left of the hiking trail as it rounds up over the top of the headwall. Habitues of the ravine call that place Schillers's Rock to remember Dr. Paul Schiller, a skier who died after sliding over the waterfall and into the crevasse forty-five years earlier to the month, week, day, and hour."

          RIP Paul and Cheryl

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          • #6
            A crazy day at the ravine in 1949...
            "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
            --
            Interactive Tuckerman Ravine Map

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