Ivah J. Coles of East St. Louis, Ill., gave his life for a friend on June 8, 1904, within two months of the Hero Fund’s founding in April. He was posthumously awarded a silver Carnegie Medal, which was given to his mother.
The medal surfaced spring 2016 when it was put up for sale on eBay by a jeweler from O’Fallon, Mo., who acquired it through someone wanting to sell scrap silver. Matthew Campbell of Washington, Pa., a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN), put in the winning bid; it turns out that the Hero Fund was the only other bidder during the anonymous proceedings. The Hero Fund attempts to re-acquire medals when located on the open market, feeling that they are not to be traded like commodities but to be held by the awardees or their families for posterity, or kept in a manner befitting their dignity, such as by a museum or historical society.
Campbell had never heard of the Hero Fund, but the medal immediately piqued his interest, as he recognized its quality. An alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University, he visited the Hero Fund’s offices in mid-April to learn more about the Coles case and do some research for an article he is considering for The Clarion, PAN’s journal. “In reading Carnegie’s autobiography,” Campbell said, “I was taken with this line, ‘The heroes of the barbarian past wounded or killed their fellows; the heroes of our civilized day serve or save theirs.’ I plan on writing about the organization’s mission.”
The Hero Fund provided Campbell with the details of Coles’s heroic act. Coles, 21, a bricklayer, and a friend, Richard E. Crumwell, 20, a carpenter, were on a swimming outing at a reservoir in Gillespie, Ill. While attempting to climb up the steep, high bank, Crumwell fell back into the water and began to sink. From the bank, Coles waded into the water toward Crumwell but sank within eight feet of him. The men’s bodies were found in water 10 to 12 feet deep; the Commission’s report indicated that they were victims of cramps, caused by the chilliness of the water.