Log Cabin Chronicles

Anyone Seen Frank Burns?
Or his diamond rings"


NEWPORT, VERMONT | Frank Burns, a prominent Vermont businessman/politician, drowned in Lake Memphremagog some 63 years ago.

The 21st of July, 1935, was a bright sunny day. Frank Burns decided to go for a ride on Lake Memphremagog on a boat named Snookums, built by Chriscraft, with five of his friends. They were going about 35 miles an hour when one of the passengers shouted to the driver of the boat to slow down because he wanted to light a cigarette. However, instead of slowing down, the driver cut the motor completely.

The boat stopped almost instantly due to the loss of power and the friction of the water. Frank Burns and a woman passenger were thrown into the water. Burns apparently drowned, but the woman passenger was rescued. She was given artificial respiration on the wharf at Georgeville by Dr. Bowen of Magog. The body of Frank Burns was never found, although an extensive search was carried out at the time.

I started an investigation into Frank Burns' death in 1981. I consulted various newspapers published at the time of the accident such as La Tribune, The Sherbrooke Daily Record, The Paladium News, the Stanstead Journal, The Express & Standard, and I interviewed three people who were directly or indirectly involved in the mishap.

The first person I talked with was Gilbert Woodard, now deceased, of Georgeville, Quebec. Woodard was 18 years old at the time of the accident. He worked with some 25 other people engaged in the search. His main job was operating the air pump for a diver (hard-hat diver) by the name of Captain Max Leubker. A German who learned his diving during the First world war, he was one of the very few divers at the time who could descend to a depth of more than 200 ft. with standard diving equipment.

[Here I should mention that scuba diving did not exist in those days. This diving method was only invented in 1945 by Jacques Yves Cousteau. Apparently, Leubker said at the time that the water was very cold when he reached the bottom at 165 ft. The bottom was sandy, with a lot of rocks, and he found it quite dark at the depth.]

One day, when Leubker was working at165 feet, the air pump ceased to function properly, and he had to surface quickly. I wonder how he managed. Apparently when he was asked the question by a Stanstead Journal reporter at the time he replied with a foreign accent: "Dere's nodding to get excited aboud". This is a transcript from the Journal.

Woodard said that each time Leubker came up for a rest, he would drink very hot coffee, black as ink. He never found Burns' body. Every means known in those days were tried to locate the body, even using depth charges of dynamite to bring the body to the surface, but all to no avail.

[Dynamiting was part of a superstition that a drowned body would surface if you created an underwater explosion: the gall-bladder is supposed to explode and create an air-lifting power. Remember I have said it is a superstition.]

The second person I spoke with of the tragic event was the daughter of Captain Clark of the Anthemis. She said that the Anthemis was leased for the search, and that her father was there with an undertaker from Newport.

The undertaker had brought with him a large wicker basket in which to put the body when it was found. When it came lunch time, the undertaker asked Captain Clark if he would like a sandwich, but when he saw the undertaker take the sandwiches out of the wicker basket the Captain lost his appetite. I have told that story once in lecturing in Vermont and the widow of the undertaker was there. I was in an embarrassing situation, but it was not the first time...

The third person was Stewart Hopps. A young man at that time, Hopps would row his boat every day from Magog to where the search was done and observed what went on. As you can see, He started a long time ago to watch what is happening on Lake Memphremagog.

Frank Burns was the mayor of Newport, a one-time member of the Vermont state legislature, and an associate in many Vermont businesses, one of which bore his name until a few years ago -- the Burns Theatre of Newport.

At the time of his drowning Burns was 57 and had been married for only three months. After the organized search for the body had terminated, many people still visited the area in their boats in the hope of finding the body.

Everyone seems to have lost interest in Burns' death very quickly. When I started my inquiry into the accident, I went to Newport, but I was unable to find anyone who had ever heard of the tragedy or that Burns had drowned.

The first lead I got came from a Miss Daigneault with the Société d'Histoire des Cantons de l'Est who sent me a press clipping from La Tribune giving the date of the accident. With this information as a start, I was able to continue my research in the archives of the other newspapers of the area.

Boisvert I personally have made many dives in the area of the accident, but have never found any of the remains of his body. I was told that Burns was wearing two diamond rings at the time of his death, one on each hand. You can be sure if I would find the skeleton, I would first shake his hand very gently.

The only things I have found so far are some grapples which were used at the time in dragging for the body. Some were as much as ten feet wide. I also found two "H" beams which were very heavy and were apparently used as anchors for some of the search boats, which operated on the site.

The boat used by the diver had to accommodate six people to operate the air pump alone, three on each side.

One day I went down to a depth of 165 feet with scuba equipment, which was my depth record in the lake at that time. Since I have established my record at 240 feet. The visibility was very poor, and at 50 feet I had to turn on my light. I can tell you, the water was really cold.

I stayed submerged for 35 minutes, and when I made my ascent, I had to stop at 30 feet from the surface for decompression. It was my first experience in diving to this depth because I do not normally have to make a decompression stop.

The rock formation on the bottom in this area is really something different. There are many small caverns under the rocks and it would seem quite possible that Burns' remains could be hidden in one of those rock formations. This was confirmed to me in 1987. While diving in this area I have found crevasses and a body falling into them would never surfaced because the flow of the current would keep it there forever.

It is true that Burns was never found. Robert Sténuit, archaeological historian, and internationally-known diver, once commented that it may take a thousand hours to prepare for a dive, but many only take an hour or so to dive and make a discovery. I have made many dives in the area of the tragedy since 1981 without any success, but I intend to continue trying from time to time in the future.

Two mediums (Psychics) were consulted in 1985 and as strange as it may sound: one concluded that the body is situated at 340 feet from the shore at a depth of 110 feet- The other one mentioned :" he has 2 rings plus a wedding ring and near the shore in front where the body would be, there is swamp land" It is true that the land is swampy where he is talking about.

This account of the accident was first published in French; and I spoke to several people in Newport after it appeared in English. Apparently, many people suspect that Burns never drowned. There is a legend that he disappeared without leaving trace. I kept investigating this fact and received a letter from a gentleman last year and his comment about Mr. Burns wife read like this:

"...she was a beautiful young woman, dark, olive-skin and well proportioned. I am sure I would never have left her nor would you, had you known her."

We can detect the Vermont humor in this passage. This is not new since we have another gentleman around the 1850s who disappeared and his boat was found but never his body. He owed lots of money to local people but he was found in Minnesota many years after but that is another story that I will tell you someday.

I would greatly appreciate hearing from readers who have any comments or who may have further information concerning the subject of this article.

There is a saying that lakes that do not render their drowned bodies are known to be inhabited by strange creatures such as sea serpents, lake monsters or....Memphré.This information came from a book given to me by Doctor Yves Lacasse (Dictionnaire des présages et des superstitions, page 184. If you want to use it - be my guest).

A few weeks ago TV5 - the French international Channel - showed "Camp Aventure." in which there was a man who tried a pocket submarine. In closing he said that he was invited by the "gentleman of Memphrmagog" to dive in the lake and for two weeks he dove and said that he was very disappointed because he did not see Memphré.

It is true that he dove - furthermore, he invited me into his submarine when he came to the lake but I was too scared to embark on it.

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