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Bureacratic blindness-or inefficiency-may have been responsible for the drowning death of two small children Saturday in a crag-surrounded pond in Jamaica Plain.
Eighteen years ago a nine-year-old boy drowned in the pond and local residents circulated a petition asking Harvard University, owner of the property, to fill in the 30' by 50' pond. Although neighbors say that over 300 people signed the petition and turned it over to the University, no action was ever taken on it.
Since that time, there have been a number of near-drownings at the pond. Mrs. Robert Wheaton, a local resident, said that her son fell in while he was fishing about three years ago but was saved by a couple of friends. Other neighbors told similar tales, thanking God it wasn't their children, but saying repeatedly, "We all knew it was bound to happen sometime."
It finally did happen to the children of black welfare recipients Mr. and Mrs. James E. Johnson. Margaret and Clyde Johnson, aged eight and nine respectively, drowned in the pond Saturday morning after the makeshift raft on which they had been playing capsized.
A third Johnson child, Leslie, was resuscitated by a Boston patrolman, William Mechan, who struggled for 30 minutes to save the boy. The Johnsons have seven other children. One son, James E. Jr., was killed in Vietnam two years ago, and another, Maceo, was killed last November in an automobile accident.
The pond, known as Muddy Pond to residents, is situated at the rear of 380 South St., Jamaica Plain, next to the Harvard-owned Arnold Arboretum. It has no fence around it and is not used for any arboretum-related activities. Local residents refer to it as "that smelly mudhole."
Henry H. Cutler '29, Harvard Real Estate Manager, didn't recall any petition last night, but said that it would have been "pretty stupid" to build a fence around the pond or fill it in.
"After all," he said. "does the MDC have to fill in the Charles River just because people drown there? Water is water-we need all the water we can get, and we can't just go around filling up every piece of water. Should we fill up the oceans because people drown there?"
Daniel Steiner '54, General Counsel to the University, reached last night at the Harvard Club of New York where he is giving a talk to a group of Radcliffe alumnae, declined to talk about the legal aspects of the drowning. "This is a tragedy." he said, "I don't want to get bogged down in the legal aspects of the thing."
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