The Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) published this press release on July 18, 2016 about the silver Carnegie Hero Medal
bought recently by Matt Campbell. Below I've added some additional information from Matt. Thanks. -Editor
It was a typical June evening when Ivah Coles, age 21, and Richard Cromwell, age 20, went for a swim in the reservoir near Benld. While
attempting to climb up the steep, high bank, Cromwell fell back into the water and began to sink. From the bank, Coles waded into the water
toward Cromwell but sank within eight feet of him. The men’s bodies were found in water 10 to 12 feet deep; the reports indicated that they
were victims of cramps, caused by the chilliness of the water due to springs nearby. That was June 8, 1904.
Though newspaper accounts of the incident gave no stirring account of bravery or heroism on Coles’ part, recognition would come later.
In 1908, Coles’ mother was presented with a silver Carnegie Hero Medal, Coles’ act being among the first few dozen recognized by the
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission (CHFC), which since 1904 has recognized nearly 10,000 acts of heroism throughout the United States and
The Coles medal was recently put up for sale on eBay by a jeweler in O’Fallon, Mo., who had acquired it from someone selling it for its
5 1⁄2 ounces of silver. The medal was purchased by Matthew Campbell, a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN),
of Washington, Pa., who contacted the Commission, based nearby in Pittsburgh. Rarely seen for sale, these medals are usually held by the
recipients and families and heirlooms. Additionally, of the nearly 10,000 Carnegie medals, only 617 are silver; most were bronze.
When Campbell contacted the Macoupin County Historical Society (MCHS) for research assistance, the society seized on the story,
gathering information and locating Coles’ grave at Bunker Hill Cemetery. Finding Coles’ grave site to be unmarked, Campbell, PAN, MCHS, and
various individuals contributed funds to install a memorial plaque and a Carnegie Hero grave marker supplied by CHFC. The plaque will be
installed at Bunker Hill Cemetery during a ceremony at 11am on Wednesday, August 24.
“Knowing what this medal represented and that it was given to Coles’ mother was very special,” said Campbell, who will travel the 550
miles to Illinois for the ceremony. “That motivated me and all of us at PAN to support the plaque at Coles’ grave and create an exhibit.
It’s a tribute to numismatics that an object purchased on eBay brought all of us together for this project 112 years later.”
The Coles medal, which traveled from O’Fallon to Pennsylvania, will return to Illinois to be exhibited at MCHS’s Ruyle Building at a
reception. A photographic display will remain at MCHS, while the medal will be displayed at PAN’s semiannual conventions in Pittsburgh and
potentially travel nationally for other events.
“We were impressed with the work done by Campbell and the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists,” said Eric P. Zahren, Executive
Director of CHFC, who will also attend the events in Illinois. “We were happy to support this project to honor Coles and make his inspiring
story known to the community.
Matt Campbell adds:
Some new snippet of information comes to light every day. For instance, the medal say Coles died trying to save "Richard
Crumwell". The medal has the name misspelled - it's actually Cromwell, but evidently the family spoke in such a manner that it sounded like
The society also found newspaper accounts from 1904 and a death certificate for Coles. We identified the reservoir where the two men
drowned, and someone ran out and snapped a picture.
In addition to Ivah Coles, Macoupin County has three other Carnegie medal recipients (from the 1920 and 1930s). We hope to have
relatives attend the August ceremonies, and I will try to arrange to get a photo of all the Carnegie medals on one table.
The Observer-Reporter, our local newspaper in Washington, PA, did a nice story.
There's also a podcast that came out yesterday with Dave Jokisch from the historical society on WSMI radio in Illinois.
Congratulations to Matt, PAN and the Macoupin County Historical Society for making this happen. Numismatic objects help keep memories
alive for future generations; this is a great example of that. -Editor
To read the Observer-Reporter article, see:
Hero’s grave will be anonymous no more
To listen to the Historical Society podcast, see:
Forum "Ivah Coles to be Honored"
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
SILVER 1904 CARNEGIE HERO MEDAL SOLD
Wayne Homren, Editor
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