Death Near the Dam

Joy, a recent graduate of Schoolfield High lived at 20 Garden Avenue in 1951 along with her father, A.D., her step-mother Ollie, and her half-siblings Clyde and Helen. The red-haired 18-year-old had gotten a new job at Dan River Mills in its research department. The evening of September 12 would be her last time reporting for work or anywhere else. Joy committed suicide that night.

Around 15 minutes before her father was to take her part of the way to her job, she borrowed a pencil from him which she used to write a brief note to be tucked underneath a small cedar box on top of the bureau in her bedroom. The note, according to the newspaper, instructed her family to wait until the morning to search for her body above the Schoolfield Dam.

Joy arrived at work, but after an hour, at around 5:00 p.m. she left under the premise of not feeling well. Before leaving she asked someone with whom she worked to call her family at 8 asking them to look on her dresser for the note. Then Joy went (probably by foot) to the dam, where she sat took off her rings and her watch, placed them inside her purse, and then put the purse along with her shoes on the embankment.

The co-worker, feeling that something wasn’t right about Joy’s request, tried to get in touch with her father once Joy had left Dan River. Her father, a machinist for the same company but in another division, didn’t receive the message for another hour because he was out on an assignment. He dashed home, read the note, and went to the water to try to find her before contacting the police. Members of a rescue crew took a boat out onto the Dan River to search for any sign of Joy. In the meantime, a crowd of onlookers had gathered at the river’s edge. Some were probably hoping that word would come that she had gone home or elsewhere-anywhere but into the water.

Melvin Thomas, one of the people on the scene, saw Joy floating in the murky river about 100 yards west of the boat dock, which is a small distance away from the actual dam. He jumped into the water, pulling her out. On land, another volunteer began artificial respiration until the rescue squad reached them. Even with a resuscitator, it was too late to save Joy. For whatever personal reasons she had for wanting to end her life by drowning, she had followed through with her seemingly well thought out plan. And what made her choose drowning? While Wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable source of information, it does have an article on suicide by drowning linked to a source that says that under 2% of suicides are carried out this way.

This postcard shows what the dam looked like in 1955, which is probably similar to how it looked in 1951. This link will take you to a photo of how the same area looked in 2007. Neither of these photos contains the area near the boat dock though.

This photo is a better representation of what the area where Joy drowned herself looked like.

Below is an excerpt from the newspaper with a photo of the people watching Joy’s recovery that night and an officer looking at the items she left on the bank.

3 thoughts on “Death Near the Dam”

  1. Very sad – but it's interesting that you were able to find so much information. I'm with Stephanie – I wonder why she did it.


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