Framework

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December 1948: Kathy Fiscus, right, with her sister Barbara, 9. This photo was published in the Los Angeles Times on April 10, 1949.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: library file photo

April 8, 1949: Two versions of same image. At right, Mrs. Hamilton Lyon Jr. of Chula Vista waits for rescue of her niece, Kathy Fiscus, 3 1/2, trapped in 14-inch water pipe underground. In the cropped version, left, firemen hold lights over rim of the pipe on the left side of the photo.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 8, 1949: The Pasadena fire chief, with back to camera, puts an arm on David Fiscus' shoulder as firemen update Kathy's father on rescue efforts. This photo was published in the April 9, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 8, 1949: Clam-shell crane and bulldozers dig next to the pipe in which Kathy Fiscus is trapped. This dig is later abandoned and a different hole drilled.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: The Fiscus family physician Dr. Robert McCullock, makes sure his oxygen equipment is ready. He hopes Kathy's silence means unconsciousness and that he'll be able to treat her. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: This rotary well digger, part of $125,000 worth of volunteer equipment, is drilling a 2 1/2-foot-wide shaft parallel to the child's trap. The work is slow, a few feet an hour, and a steel casing must line the hole before men can start to tunnel for Kathy Fiscus. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: Mr. and Mrs. David Fiscus during rescue operations in San Marino to try to reach their daughter Kathy. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1947: Rescue worker D. A. Kelly, before entering shaft. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: KTTV live television coverage of Kathy Fiscus rescue attempt in San Marino. In 1949, KTTV was owned by the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: Times-CBS station KTTV delivers on-the-spot coverage of the Kathy Fiscus rescue. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times. The Times promoted KTTV coverage and didn't mention KTLA's presence.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1947: Scene in San Marino of efforts to rescue Kathy Fiscus, 3 1/2, who had fallen down a well. This is a of two photo panorama published in the April 10, 1949 Los Angeles Times. The version scanned from the original two negatives.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: Carefully a weary rescue crew guides the steel tube into position over the deep hole dug by a rotary well-digger. The welding sheathing will line the pit to protect from cave-ins. This photo was published on page one of the April 10, 1949 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: Raymond Hill, center, directs the Kathy Fiscus rescue operation. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: H. L. Blickensderfer of Rosemead, sandhog and veteran miner, directs operations at the bottom of the pit, night and day, during rescue operations for Kathy Fiscus. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: The scene at the Kathy Fiscus rescue operation in San Marino, with television trucks in the background. Also note row of camera tripods at the edge of the pit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 9, 1949: Radio technicians operate sound equipment to communicate with men in the hole and to try to detect sounds of Kathy Fiscus. This photo was published in the April 10, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Workers rig an air line running down tube before sending men town to dig the last few feet by hand. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Panorama of rescue efforts in San Marino for Kathy Fiscus made from two different 4-by-5 negatives. This panorama was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times. The original negatives were scanned for this version.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: R. O. Ritchie / Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Day and night, thousands of spectators watched the Kathy Fiscus rescue operations in San Marino. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: A Los Angeles Times graphic of the scene of the Kathy Fiscus rescue operation in San Marino. Black arrow shows where her body was found. This graphic was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Charles H. Owens / Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Bill Yancey, a Pasadena sewer contractor who was the first to go down the tube to dig by hand, gets a cigarette from Jack Bradley, a Pasadena ambulance driver. Yancey was in the hole for two hours. He wore a throat microphone to relay news. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Sheriff's deputies help Paul Neiford, a digger, through ropes to a rest area. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Contractor Bartram (Herb) Herpel climbs down a ladder after emerging from the metal tube. KTLA's truck is in the center background. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

April 10, 1949: Bill Yancey is shown climbing out of the pipe before sending down drills and saws to cut into Kathy Fiscus' rusty underground prison. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: H. E. Blickensderfer, on stretcher, talks with Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz during a short rest. A similar photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: H. E. Blickensderfer and Don T. Metz at the scene of the Kathy Fiscus rescue operation in San Marino. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Rescue worker Ted Ritzer is helped to resting area after working a shift underground. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Overall image of the press conference at which Dr. Paul Hanson announces the death of Kathy Fiscus, 3 1/2, at rescue operations in San Marino.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: Dr. Paul Hanson announces the death of Kathy Fiscus 3 1/2, at rescue operations in San Marino. This photo was published in the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: The body of Kathy Fiscus is brought to the surface during rescue operations in San Marino. This photo was published on page one of the April 11, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 10, 1949: The body of Kathy Fiscus is brought to the surface during rescue operations in San Marino.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1949: A bulldozer fills holes dug in San Marino rescue effort for Kathy Fiscus. This photo was published in the April 12, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1949: Casing is removed from the shaft dug for rescue workers. This photo was published in the April 12, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1949: Frank Fisher, left, relaxes at home after the rescue attempt. He stood on lip of the rescue shaft for hours hauling tools up and down. With him are Bartram Herpel and Bill Yancey, who also played leading roles in rescue efforts. Yancey carried Fiscus' body to the surface. Herpel, Yancey's business partner, estimates he spent seven hours underground. This photo was published in the April 12, 1949 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1949: O. A. Kelly, one of the Kathy Fiscus rescue workers, after the failed effort in San Marino. This photo was published in the April 12, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1949: The yard at the rear of the Fiscus home includes swing, wagons and play-worn yard. The Fiscus family had left for an unknown location after death of daughter Kathy Fiscus. This photo was published in the April 12, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: R.O. Ritchie / Los Angeles Times

April 12, 1949: Letters with contributions to the Kathy Fiscus Rescue Fund are unloaded on desk of Postmaster Michael Fanning by letter carrier Bob Dodds. This photo was published in the April 13, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 13, 1949: Some of the men who helped in the Kathy Fiscus rescue effort attend the girl's funeral for the girl. From left: Joel Ledden, Clyde Harp, Tommy Francis, John J. Ihnot, O. A. Kelly, Donald Metz, Don Newbold, H. E. Blickensderfer, Tom Southern (with mustache in rear of group), Ted Straser (with glasses in front), Ned Larsen (heavyset man in light suit) and Paul Neiford. This photo was published in the April 14. 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 13, 1949: Barbara Fiscus, 9, sister of Kathy Fiscus, leaves services for Kathy with her aunt Mrs. Hamilton Lyon. This photo was published in the April 14, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

April 11, 1999: Kathy Fiscus' mother, Alice Fiscus, 81, closes her eyes during the opening prayer at a memorial service 50 years later. Standing next to her is daughter Barbara Simon, 59, The memorial was held at San Marino High School.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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Kathy Fiscus rescue chronicle

On April 8, 1949, Kathy Fiscus, 3, fell down an abandoned well in San Marino. The resulting rescue attempt gripped Southern California. Television stations KTLA and KTTV broadcast live.

As part of its coverage, the Los Angeles Times published a “Rescue Chronicle.” From the April 10 and 11, 1949, editions:

FRIDAY (April 8, 1949):

4:45 p.m.–The child, in a footrace in a vacant lot, fell into a 230-foot abandoned water well.

5 p.m.–Her playmates notified Mrs. Alice Fiscus, who called police.

5:45 p.m.–Police and firemen attempted to pull the child from the well by ropes and failed. They dropped air hoses through the mouth of the well to insure ventilation. Mrs. Fiscus could hear Kathy’s crying voice.

6 p.m.–Massive clamshell cranes arrived to dig for the trapped child.

6:30 p.m.–Mrs. Fiscus could no longer hear her daughter’s voice.

Midnight–A 5-inch rubber ball filled with sand was dropped in the well. It fell a distance of 87 feet before meeting an object in the narrow casing.

SATURDAY (April 9, 1949):

4 a.m.–A pit dug beside the well had reached a vertical depth of about 65 feet. Workmen began tunneling from the center of the pit to the well’s pipe shaft.

6:45 a.m.–Albert Linell, one of the workmen, reached the well casing that imprisoned Kathy. He could not hear her voice or any breathing.

7 a.m.–A 35-inch corrugated steel tube to protect workmen was lowered into the pit. Earth was cleared for a driller to saw a hole into the well casing.

9:30 a.m.–The cutting of a window in the wall of the casing was begun, two hours later it was completed.

11:30 a.m.–Kathy’s dress and a part of her arm were believed sighted by workmen at a depth of 95 feet–38 feet below the window.

Noon–The pit was abandoned for fear of cave-ins. Drilling was resumed by a second rig–a rotary well digger–on the other side of the lip of the well.

2:45 p.m.–The well digger, slowed by boulders, had reached a depth of 80 feet. It was predicted that it might be midnight before the estimated location of the child was reached.

6 p.m.–The rotary drill had bit to a depth of 88 feet.

7:45 p.m.–The 30-inch rescue shaft reached 93 feet depth.

8:15 p.m.–The first 20-foot welded steel casing was lowered into the rescue shaft.

10:30 p.m.–Last of the four welded steel casing sections was put into place. Work on the lateral tunnel had begun. It was estimated that Kathy would be reached by 3 a.m. today at the latest.

SUNDAY (April 10, 1949):

12:01 a.m.–The bottom of the rescue shaft has been reached and a cramped cavern has been hallowed out. Diggers work to remove more earth and expand the working area.

1:45 a.m.–At 89 feet the diggers strike hard clay and rocks. Worse, there is evidence of water seepage.

2:40 a.m.–Bartram (Herb) Herpel, sewer contractor, comes up after deepening the rescue hole to 93 feet. He reports the presence of hard clay, with the possibility that a horizontal tunnel can be dug without shoring to the old well pipe in which Kathy is imprisoned.

3:17 a.m.–Protective casing of rescue shaft is lowered five more feet. B. A. Gorham goes down to see what the situation is.

4 a.m.–Mark Nottingham, who has taken over unofficial supervision of the operation, goes down the shaft for a quick inspection. Only a relatively few inches separate the imprisoned child from her dogged rescuers.

6:25 a.m.–Tools are assembled to make climactic cut-through to Kathy. But as they are about to be lowered into the rescue shaft, Bill Yancey emerges with the report that water is flooding the rescue cavern. The work cannot proceed. The water level must be reduced.

7 a.m.– H. E. (Whitey) Blickensderfer, volunteer “foreman” of the rescue crew, goes down for a look. He returns to the surface to confer with other volunteers. They decide to work a nearby pump at full capacity to draw off the water below the ground and decrease the water level in the shaft.

7:30 a.m.–Water is reported flowing into the rescue shaft at three gallons a minute, but the abandoned well is believed to be free of water at the level Kathy is presumed to be trapped. The pump starts.

8:45 a.m.–Flow of water below ground increases, jeopardizing the entire rescue plan–already completely changed once.

9:15 a.m.–Volunteer Paul Neiford goes down rescue shaft for an inspection and finds that the water level has receded to the point where work can resume. The casing in the shaft is raised five feet to permit a more pronounced cut toward the well pipe and the race against death continues.

10:10 a.m.–The well pipe is cracked at the 94-foot level. Twigs and debris are disclosed. Kathy is presumed to be above this point.

10:20 a.m.–Police estimated 6,000 spectators have gathered in the bright Palm Sunday morn. Saturday’s crowd of thousands drifted away during the chill night.

11:30 a.m.–New timbers are lowered into rescue shaft to prop roof of linking tunnel.

12:20 p.m.–Three feet of water-bearing sand falls from roof of tunnel, partly burying two rescuers working in 18 inches of water. They are pulled free and returned to the surface exhausted but uninjured.

2:25 p.m.–Tunnel is rebolstered with additional timbers and deemed safe for drilling operations. Leonard Kelly of Temple City goes down with pneumatic drill and small parachute harness to lift Kathy to the top when she is extricated.

3 p.m.–Kelly is dissatisfied with results from pneumatic drill. He calls for pneumatic saw to cut 12-by-18 inch “window” in the well pipe through which to reach Kathy.

3:40 p.m.–Two holes are drilled through the well pipe and pins are slipped across the pipe to prevent Kathy from tumbling farther down. The child is presumed to be about one foot above the pins.

4:10 p.m.–More carbon blades are requested. In five minutes a fresh bucketful is sent down the rescue shaft to the cutters below. Additional cribbing for support of the ground is also requested by the men in the hole. O. A. Kelly and H. E. (Whitey) Blickensderfer have remained more then two hours at the bottom cutting at the well pipe.

4:40 p.m.–Blickensderfer announces through the speaker system that they are breaking one blade to every four inches of cutting. The crowd grows as news spreads that the climax is near.

5:30 p.m.–Kelly and Blickensderfer request that their microphones be disconnected from the public address system at the surface. They talk privately with Raymond Hill, engineer bossing the rescue.

6 p.m.–After two days of continuously pumping air into the old well, the procedure is stopped abruptly by a fireman assigned to the hand pump. This is the first indication Kathy is dead.

6:03 p.m.–Hill announces that Kathy’s body has been sighted by rescuers drilling through the iron pipe 94 feet underground. He does not say whether she is alive or dead.

6:35 p.m.–An ambulance is backed to within eight feet of the well opening.

6:47 p.m.–Two rescue volunteers at the mouth of the well pull gently on a rope dropped into the hole.

7 p.m.–Hill talks privately with Kelly in the rescue shaft, with the speaker system cut out.

7:20 p.m.–Firemen start pumping air into the well again. They say the order to cease was given erroneously by someone they do not identify.

7:29 p.m.–Three paper cups are lowered into the rescue shaft without an explanation. Still no official word has been given concerning Kathy’s death.

7:40 p.m.–Kelly is pulled from the rescue shaft without Kathy, and rescue operations slacken – the first real indication the child is dead.

8:12 p.m.–Bill Yancey is lowered into the rescue shaft on a bucket on the end of a cable. Dr. Robert McCullock tries on parachute-type harness preparatory to following Yancy.

8:20 p.m.–Dr. McCullock, clad in blue jacket, aviator’s cap and dungaree trousers, begins descent into shaft.

8:31 p.m.–Word is passed from bottom of rescue shaft to being pulling gently on rope lowered into old well casing. Yancey’s voice heard saying, “Keep it coming up gently. Easy, men,” as six volunteers being pulling on rope snubbed once around a timber across top of well.

8:36 p.m.–Rope from old well belayed around timber while rescuers participated in conference. Six men continue to hold line as they stand on edge of excavation by the well.

8:48 p.m.–Only one man left holding rope leading into abandoned shaft.

8:53 p.m.–Dr. Paul Hanson announces Kathy is dead.

For more, check out Little Girl’s Tragedy Was Catalyst for Live TV News, a Nov. 9, 1999, story by Patt Morrison.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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2 Comments

  1. October 9, 2015, 7:49 am

    "Midnight–A 5-inch rubber ball filled with sand was dropped in the well. It fell a distance of 87 feet before meeting an object in the narrow casing." I guess I don't really understand this entry. Surely a five inch sand-filled ball would weight a considerable amount and dropped 87 feet onto a trapped child, regardless of what intelligence you might hope to develop, would be a profoundly stupid idea. I remember my parents talking about Kathy Fiscus, and after all these years have come to believe I may have seen some of the television coverage (but that could very well be my imagination). My mother always warned my younger brother and I, in the strongest terms, away from any caves or openings in the ground we might find. I'm sure part of that was because of this tragic story.

    By: passingthroughthemoment
  2. October 10, 2015, 6:06 am

    Scott, is there a reason you review and post comments? Are there rules for leaving a comment?

    By: passingthroughthemoment

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