William Elmer Hammer and Gay Pye Tragedy

William Elmer Hammer and his fiancée, Gay Pye died four days before they were to graduate from Dakota Normal School. A special note appeared on the back of the commencement program June 14, 1893.

"The foregoing program for Commencement Day was fully prepared and every preparation was completed for its happy fulfillment, when, on Saturday June 10th, 1893, Miss Gay Pye and Mr. William Elmer Hammer of the graduating class were accidentally drowned, by the overturning of a boat in Lake Madison.

The entire school is in profound grief at this great affliction. All the appointed exercises for the week are set aside, but in place of this program and at the same hour, proper memorial exercises will be held for the loved and honored class-mates and the diplomas will be formally presented. Those for the dead will be presented to their families."

The 1981 Summer Alumni News recounts an article from the Madison Daily Leader during the time:

(Alumni News Editors note: "The following article is reprinted from the Madison Daily Leader of June 12, 1893 and tells of the drowning of two State Normal students a couple days before they were to have graduated. The headline read: "Under the Cold Wave - Tragic Ending of Two of the Graduates of the State Normal School - Gay Pye and William Hammer Drowned.)

Sunday morning Madison was thrown into a state of gloom and feverish excitement by the announcement that two of the Normal School Students - Wm. Hammer, of this city, and Miss Gay Pye, of Bryant, had the evening before, about 10 p.m., been drowned in Lake Madison while out boating.

It develops that 7 p.m. Saturday evening, Mr. Hammer called at the dormitory with his horse and carriage for Miss Pye to go out riding, not an unusual circumstance as they have been intimately acquainted as classmates for years and were about to graduate as members of the same class next Wednesday. The young people went downtown to the "merry-go-round" on Center Street and with other young people they took a swing and then gaily departed for the lake, three and a half miles distant at 7:30.

At 8 p.m., Mr. Hammer engaged a row boat at the Chautauqua boat house and the two went out on the lake for a rowing excursion. Towards 9 p.m., they were seen at the west end of the lake and at 9:30 they were observed by several fishermen near Sioux Falls Point, whence they must have turned their course and started across the lake homeward. Soon after this, someone at an upper window in the Grand View Hotel heard cries of distress out on the lake and ran down to the shore to inquire of Capt. Smith if anyone was out with a boat, and being informed that two young people were out, said that the party must be in the lake as the cry was one of distress.

A search was at once instituted by a party from the hotel going across the lake towards Sioux Falls Point but no trace or hearing of the young people could be discovered. The party then returned to see if the young people reached shore and taken their carriage for home, but the horse was still tied to the tree where originally left, and the boat had drifted ashore, bottom side up with one oar under the seat.

Proof was now almost conclusive that the young people had been drowned, and Landlord Jones at once started with the horse and carriage for the city to have the young people identified. It was near midnight when he called up President Beadle who immediately commenced a specific search among the resident students' homes to have the horse and carriage identified. By 2 a.m., he had discovered that the two young people who had started out with the carriage were Mr. Hammer and Miss Pye.

He at once aroused the faculty and others, procured barbwire, ropes and men and organized a thoroughly systematic method of searching for the missing bodies, so that when daylight came everything was in readiness and the search by dragging the lake began.

The motor was started out between the city and the lake at 5 a.m. and kept running all day and large crowds of people hung anxiously around the lake shores all day, many watching, but many others assisting and resorting to all forms of expedients to aid in dragging the lake and if possible catch up the missing bodies. All was to no avail until early morning when he body of Miss Pye was drawn up… (Mr. Hammer's body was found later.)…

…Several vague rumors as to the probably cause of the drowning of these two young people were set afloat yesterday as frequently occurs in the excitement surrounding a fatal mystery of this kind, which was heightened by the fact that pistol shooting had been heard on the lake just previous to the time of the catastrophe. But careful inquiry had developed the fact that the shooting was done by fisherman on the lake shore both before and after the drowning, and at the time when it can be clearly proven that the young people were in a completely different part of the lake.

The young people were on the best of terms from the long association, and went to their last excursion in the best of spirits. From the fact that one of the oars was found beneath the seat under the capsized boat, it is quite evident that the two voyagers had attempted to change seats and in passing each other had upset the boat and fallen into the water, being unable to reach it again or rescue themselves from a watery grave.

The boat drifted ashore soon after in front of the Grand View Hotel and Mr. Hammer's hat not far from it…Next morning, Miss Pye's hat, with her veil on it and a pencil sticking in it, was found under the edge of debris on the lake shore…All these evidences…were conclusive proofs of the sure and accidental drowning of the parties. These conclusions arrived at by the Daily Leader reporter have been confirmed by the corner's inquest…