1938, September 27: The Baby Catcher

[Larger version here]

Joseph Figlock was employed by the Department of Public Works in Detroit, Michigan, USA, in 1938, when he was in the right place at the right time. On the morning of September 27 of that year, he was sweeping an alley at E. Canfield Ave. in Detroit, when two-year-old David Glenn Thomas fell from a fourth floor window above Figlock... the child struck Figlock on the head and shoulders, which injured the child enough for him to be taken to a hospital; but the child lived, and Figlock, though surprised, was uninjured.

        This, however, was not the most remarkable thing about the whole matter.

        When the story was reported on September 28 in the Detroit Free Press, Figlock mentioned that this was, in fact, the second time he had been struck by a falling child within the past year. Nearly a year earlier, Figlock said, he had been working on John R. Street in Detroit, when a baby girl fell from a fourth floor window and also landed on him... this child, too, had survived the fall, thanks to Figlock's dubious luck!

Did It Happen...?

        The story above is what was reported in the Detroit Free Press of September 28, 1938; but it's a story of a spectacular enough nature that it requires some checking. So I dug backwards to see if I could find an article noting Figlock's first accidental save.

        I couldn't find any mention of it; but I did find that children falling from buildings was both a going problem and a repeating news story. Ignoring Figlock's account above, I found three other baby catchers in the news from 1937 to 1938:

  • On August 2, 1937, 12-year-old boy scout Stanley Hollis caught 22-month-old Francis Leavitt when he fell twenty feet from a window in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Around September 25, 1937, Lena Gauthier was already holding her 6-month-old daughter Joan when she caught her 2-year-old son Leon after he fell from a second story window in Jersey City, New Jersey.
  • Around May 25, 1938, Edward Loftus saw 3-year-old Rosemary McMahon teetering in a second story window that had just had the screen fall out; he stopped his car, hurdled a fence, and arrived just in time to catch the falling child in Chicago, Illinois.

In all cases the children survived; and given that my search criteria was "falling baby," I'm now wondering if children falling to their deaths didn't happen, or if this was simply not considered newsworthy....

        In any case, a child falling from above and being miraculously saved was obviously considered newsworthy at the time; which makes it somewhat suspicious that I can find no earlier mention of Joseph Figlock catching another child. Also note that in all cases, I know the age and name of the child that fell; but these details are missing from the supposed first baby catch for Figlock.

        So while it is perfectly possible that Joseph Figlock did encounter two children who fell, there is some question as to whether or not the first event actually occurred. Did Figlock or the reporter lie to make the story more spectacular? Or is there a report out there somewhere that will someday confirm Figlock's claim? You'll just have to make your own judgement call on this one, folks.

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