Water Safety Tip

AJC Deja News: Crew cut nearly led to Atlanta drowning (1959)

A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Sunday, June 14, 1959, edition of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 


William Lloyd Johnson likely never imagined his crew cut would land him on the front page of the Sunday paper. But when the 11-year-old debuted his new hairstyle at the Candler Park swimming pool, he nearly drowned. And his story served as a reminder of how quickly a day of fun can turn deadly.

Two Atlanta area youngsters nearly died in local pools on June 13, 1959. A 12-year-old girl escaped drowning — and was nearly electrocuted — at a DeKalb pool when she brushed up against a shorted underwater light. And William, eager to see how pool water would affect his buzzcut, soon found himself in trouble, too.

“Saturday he took his flat top into the water for the first time,” the Constitution’s Orville Gaines wrote. “But he got in over his head, and he doesn’t know how to swim.”


>> Check out what we’ve covered before (and again)

On average, more than two dozen people in Georgia drown in a pool or hot tub each year. In a September 2017 data analysis, the AJC found that “of all children age 5 and under who drowned during recreational water use, three-fourths of those children drown in a pool.”

So far, 2019 shows few signs of being much different with regard to Georgia drowning deaths.

“The unofficial kickoff to summer — Memorial Day weekend — is routinely tragic in metro Atlanta, and this year was no exception,” the AJC’s Alexis Stevens wrote in a May 29 article. “Five people drowned in Georgia lakes over the long weekend, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and at least two others drowned in local pools. According to experts, every death could have been prevented.” 

Nationally, the numbers are similar.

“Every year, about 4,000 people drown in the United States, and it’s the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1-14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Stevens writes. “Only vehicle crashes kill more children, according to the CDC.”


>> How to keep your kids safe around water

William might have become one of those drowning statistics 60 years ago if not for the quick thinking of lifeguards and other youngsters at Candler Park.

June 14, 1959 -- The Sunday Journal-Constitution featured a story on two Atlanta youngsters who nearly died in area swimming pools.

“Jack Nelson, 19, of the Atlanta YMCA, and another pool lifeguard wrapped the unconscious boy in a blanket and began to give him artificial respiration,” Gaines wrote. “He was revived shortly thereafter.

“Nelson said the boy ‘dived or jumped’ from the pool’s low springboard into water about 10 feet deep. ‘Two unidentified boys pulled him over to the pool side.’”

Connie Gaddy’s afternoon at the pool was memorable, too, for all the wrong reasons. Electricity and water can be a dangerous combination.

The original caption for this June 1959 photo reads: "Eddie Lynch feels victim's crew cut. William Lloyd Johnson had close call."

“When the lifeguard, Melvin Smith, saw that the girl was being held fast by the electricity, he ran and removed fuses to the underwater lights,” Connie’s father told the Constitution. After being examined by a Grady physician at the pool, the youngster headed home. 


>> DeKalb girl who rescued drowning sister honored

Mountain Park Aquatic Center in Gwinnett County has many features, including water slides, a Lazy River and zero-depth entry point. Contributed by Gwinnett County

As for William and his hair (or lack thereof), the near-death experience didn’t sway the young fellow from his plans.

“The boy said he will test out his crew-cut in a swimming pool again,” Gaines wrote.

William’s mother, Marie, assured the paper that her freshly-coiffed son would get swimming lessons before taking another dip in a pool.

“He’s real lucky to be alive,” she said.


In this series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”

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