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A few years back, a man named Russell Spear came across the text of an old news account about the day his late grandfather played the role of life saver on Cambridge Creek by rescuing a little girl who fell through the ice one day in January of 1920, he decided to share the story on a Facebook page devoted to Cambridge Memories. This is the newspaper excerpt he posted:

Clarence L. Spear saved Oneita E. Hubbard from drowning
Cambridge, Maryland, January 11, 1920.
Oneita, 9, broke through thin ice and fell into Cambridge Creek 150 feet from the bank, where the water was 10 feet deep. Spear, 34, automobile mechanic, skated to a point 10 feet from the hole, lay on the ice, and slid about eight feet; he then broke through and went slightly under the surface. He rose and took hold of Oneita, but she crawled upon his shoulders, causing both to go under the surface twice. Supporting Oneita, Spear trod water until a boat was brought over the ice to them, and Oneita was lifted into it. Spear was drawn up on the ice by a rope.

Actually, three children fell through the ice that day. Spear’s heroics also helped save young Mildred Lyons by grabbing hold of her hair. Sadly, Mildred’s brother, Benjamin Lyons, lost his life.

In response to that post, a woman named Allison Bramble Marshall soon chimed in with this comment:

I’m the great grand daughter of Oneita! She is still living and will be 106 this September. I have never heard this story but thank God for people like him!

Life Saver on Cambridge CreekAllison posted the photo of Oneita McCall that you see here. She is holding a great-great grandchild who never would have made it into the world if Clarence L. Spear hadn’t played the role of life saver on Cambridge Creek that day in 1920. I am sorry to report that Oneita passed away in the summer of 2017. Here is her obituary. May she rest in peace, and may she also, perhaps, enjoy a chance to catch up with Clarence L. Spear on the other side. I have also heard here in the comments from the grandaughter of Mildred Lyons, the other girl who was saved that day.

As to the life saver, Clarence Spear, he was awarded a big national Carnegie Hero award for his actions. He died in his late 50s, suffering a heart attack on a February day in 1942 while trying to control a grass fire at his farm in the Neck District outside of Cambridge.

There is one more twist to the story. On the website of the Carnegie Hero Fund, which is still going today, there is a story about a granddaughter of Spear’s, Shirley Spear Reed of Severn, Md. She was born eight years after his death, but became curious about her grandfather as she got older. She had a bronze marker created commemorating her grandfather’s Carnegie-winning heroics and attached it to his gravestone in Dorchester Memorial Park.

Here is what family legend told Ms. Reed about Clarence:

“Reed said that in addition to being a mechanic, Spear farmed, growing corn, tomatoes, kale, collard greens, and other crops that he sold to local markets. He once met Annie Oakley, the famous sharpshooter, who showed him her techniques. They were passed down through the family to Reed herself when she learned to shoot as a teenager.”

The timing works, actually. Annie Oakley lived in Cambridge for a few years starting in 1912. I have a story up here about that, too.

—research by Jim Duffy
–published in July 2016 for Secrets of the Eastern Shore/Whimbrel Creations LLC; updated in July 2017 and again on Jan. 11, 2020

 

5 Comments

  • Bobbie Trumpower says:

    Beautiful story!

  • Brenda knowles says:

    Oneida McCall passed away this month, July 2017.

    • I am so sorry to hear this, Brenda Knowles. Prayers and condolences to her family. Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know. I think I might try and put this story up via Facebook again in the coming days.

    • Barbara Morris says:

      I shared news clipping I found doing family research on FB as well a while back. My grandmother, Mildred Lyons was saved by Clarence by holding her by her hair. My great uncle Benjamin was not saved. He was very young. I shared the clipping with Brandon Spears as he grew up with my brother Andy Benjamin Morris. Everything comes full circle here on the Eastern shore. Great article! Thank you.

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