Conroy the Brave by Simeon Tucker Clark

Niagara Falls, June 1, 1874 


Guide Thomas Conroy Standing by the Dressing Room of the Shadow of the Rock Building. Photo by George Barker. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The sun looks out of a cloudless sky ;
‡‡The winds are drifting the apple-blows
That over the grass like snow-flakes lie ;
The oriole wooes his mate as they fly ;
‡‡And William McCullough to labor goes.

A prayer is warm in the old man’s heart,
‡‡A song is quivering on his tongue ;
As he busily plies his wonted art
He watches the arrowy rapids dart
‡‡Under his scaffolding, safely hung.

A moment more and under the tide
‡‡Of wrathful waters his form is lost !
The river fiends fasten on his every side —
They pluck at his beard, they gibber and chide !
‡‡He is blinded and deafened and pelted and tost !

Weary and wounded, all breathless and sore,
‡‡More than half dead he is hurried away,
Close to the brink where the great waters pour,
Heedless and headlong with terrible roar,
‡‡Into a vortex where never was day !

What can prevent him ? O Father Supreme !
‡‡Darkness like this thou alone can illume !
See !  What is that in the turbulent stream ?
It is a glimpse — a half-comforting gleam
‡‡Of floating grey hair mid the circling spume !

Yes ! he is clutching with half palsied hand
‡‡Yon God-given guerdon — a pillar of stone —
He whispers with Death and looks toward the land
Where he never again with his fellows may stand’
‡‡Who powerless must leave him to perish alone !

But lo ! who is coming with masterly stride,
‡‡Pride on his forehead and strength in his frame ?
Tom Conroy, the guide, who was never defied,
He laughs at the danger — and braving the tide
‡‡Is bound with a cord to the chariot of Fame.

Strong was the rope that was fast to the shore,
‡‡And under the coil was a heart big and brave —
Aye, braver to-day than ever before,
He reaches the rock — and like Perseus of yore —
‡‡He rescues his friend from the fiend of the wave !

When the names of our heroes are written or sung,
‡‡We will chant your name Conroy in musical stave
When palsied your arm and silent your tongue,
The child now unborn, shall hear how you flung
‡‡Yourself in the wave, a comrade to save !

Source: Niagara Gazette, June 10, 1874

Read an article on the rescue of William McCullough by Tom Conroy from the Buffalo Evening Courier & Republic, June 2, 1874

John Tyndall visited Niagara Falls, and in the chapter “Niagara” of his book Fragments of Science (1879) he tells of hiring Conroy as his guide. About a year after Tyndall’s visit, the rescue of  William McCullough took place. Tyndall wrote a postscript to the chapter:

A year or so after I had quitted the United States, a man sixty years of age, while engaged in painting one of the bridges which connect Goat Island with the Three Sisters, slipped through the rails of the bridge into the rapids, and was carried impetuously towards the Horse- shoe Fall. He was urged against a rock which rose above the water, and with the grasp of desperation he clung to it. The population of the village of Niagara Falls was soon upon the island, and ropes were brought, but there was none to use them. In the midst of the excitement, a tall powerful young fellow was observed making his way silently through the crowd. He reached a rope ; selected from the bystanders a number of men, and placed one end of the rope in their hands. The other end he fastened round himself, and choosing a point considerably above that to which the man clung, he plunged into the rapids. He was carried violently downwards, but he caught the rock, secured the old painter and saved him. Newspapers from all parts of the Union poured in upon me, describing this gallant act of my guide Conroy.

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