Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Podcasting Since January 2008

1935: Baby Born in Deep Water Well

Most of us take running water in our homes for granted.  Just go to a faucet, turn it on, and the water magically comes out.  Yet, it wasn’t long ago that many rural homes lacked this modern convenience.

Take, for example, the case of Willie Jourdan.  On October 22, 1935, the 26-year-old mother went out to get water from the Jourdan family farm well in Gulf, North Carolina.  She described what happened next:

“I was feeling fine, and when I got to the well I drew the water and poured it in the bucket.” She continued, “I fainted while trying to put the cover over the well, and the next thing I remember was swimming around in the water. I looked up and could see a small opening. I started to scream and swim. The well was so large that I could take two strokes in swimming from one side to the other.”

A United Press article describes that well as having been forty feet (12.2 m) deep and filled to the 10-foot (~3m) mark with water. It’s not a place that anyone would ever wish to be, particularly if one was eight months pregnant, which Mrs. Jourdan was. 

The good news was that she was able to put her high school swimming lessons to good use. “After swimming around for awhile, I found a knot on the side of the wall. I hung to it and rested. It wasn’t long before this gave way and I was in the water again. I tried to touch the bottom but it was too deep and I started swimming around and around the well. Finally I found a hand hold and I clung to that until my husband came to me.”

As soon as he realized that his wife had fallen into the well, Alton Jourdan sprang into action.  He just happened to have been working nearby with a well-drilling outfit, so he was able to lower himself down the well to his wife.  He then placed a rope under Willie’s armpits, tied it off, and then pulled the two of them up to the surface.

Later, Mrs. Jourdan stated, “I guess I was in the water forty minutes but it seemed like hours. I became unconscious when my husband left me and I don’t remember a thing until I was in the hospital.”

Willie may not have been conscious, but her husband discovered a big surprise tangled in his wife’s clothing.  It was a newborn baby boy. He wrapped the two of them in blankets and rushed them to the hospital.

It was determined that seven-pound, nine-ounce (3.43 kg) Franklin Woodrow Emile Jourdan had been about twenty minutes before being rescued and that mom had no clue that she had given birth. The baby had been underwater the whole time and did not start breathing until being brought above the water surface.

The Jourdans did have another son, two-year-old Jack, who was born prematurely after Mrs. Jourdan tripped while walking.

After six days in the hospital, mom and her newborn were doing well and were sent home. Sadly, this story does not end well. On April 4, 1944, young Franklin died from postoperative shock.  His death certificate states that he had a malignant tumor in the fourth ventricle of his brain.  Franklin was 8 years, 5 months, and 8 days old when he passed away.

Death certificate for Franklin Woodrow Jourdan.
Death certificate for Franklin Woodrow Jourdan.

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