Sugarloaf Suicide

Boyhood memories, however vivid they may seem, can be unreliable.

Of this sobering fact I was reminded recently regarding a Mount Sugarloaf suicide that occurred during my free and easy days as a South Deerfield youth. I have over the past decade or so tried unsuccessfully many times to chase down that story in newspaper archives. I couldn’t understand why it was so elusive. I knew it happened, and thought I had clear memories of the details that spread around town like wildfire. Atop the list was the “unforgettable” name of the victim: Cheney Bigelow. How could anyone forget such a distinguished New England name?

My latest round of inquiry into this man of South Deerfield lore was inspired by friend Chip Ainsworth’s recycled 2019 column about another tragic Sugarloaf death, that one an accidental fall involving a Smith College beauty queen in October 1965. The old column popped up on Facebook, recounting the tragic tale of Karol Rae Hummon, 21, then the reigning Miss Alaska from the ’65 Miss America Pageant. I remembered the incident well. It happened when I was 12. Hummon slipped and fell 300 feet to her death while casually hiking and sightseeing along the edge of the mountain’s cliff face.

Ainsworth’s column, which I had not seen when it was published in the Greenfield Recorder, immediately got my wheels spinning. I emailed Ainsworth to share my frustration following several unsuccessful attempts to find a newspaper story about the Sugarloaf suicide. I was quite certain it had occurred soon after the tragedy he featured, but he didn’t remember it.

Hmmmm? Another Sugarloaf suicide chase was underway.

I cut and pasted my email to Ainsworth into a Deerfield Now Facebook post, added a few details, and trolled for community feedback that failed to appear. Not a word. I was surprised. Figured the post would stir interest. Maybe it needed time.

Later that day – and quite coincidentally, I might add – my phone rang. The caller ID read David White, an old townie friend we called “Hopper.” I had chummed around with him as a kid and hunted pheasants with him as a young man, but had lost contact with him since I moved to Greenfield in 1997. Recently retired and building his family tree, White knew I, too, chased genealogy and was eager to chat about what he had thus far learned about his rich Yankee roots reaching back to the Mayflower.

“So,” I interrupted early into our conversation, “you’re not responding to my Facebook post from earlier today?”

“What Facebook post?”

“I trolled about that guy who leaped to his death off Sugarloaf when we were kids. I think his name was Cheney Bigelow.”

“Cheney Bigelow?”

“Yeah. That’s the name I remember.”

“Not me. I think it was Edgar Mathias.”

“Hmmm? Maybe so. That name does ring a bell.”

I thanked my old buddy for the tip and promised to dig deeper on Edgar Mathias. Inspiring. Finally, a new clue.

Our rambling conversation ended and I went immediately to my laptop. There I pulled up online, did a few Mathias searches and – Bingo! – finally got a local hit. It was a Memorial Day, front-page Greenfield Recorder story below the fold, headlined “Man Killed in Jump off Summit.” Dated May 29, 1967, the suicide had unfolded the previous day, a Sunday. The victim’s name was indeed reported as “Edgard F. Mathias,” the second “d” in the first name likely a skeleton-crew holiday typo that wasn’t caught.

Born in 1932, Mathias was 35 and living in Springfield when he decided to end his life on South Deerfield’s ancient Connecticut Valley landmark. According to, he was an Army veteran and, given his age, most likely served during the Korean War (1950-53). He is buried at West Springfield’s Saint Thomas Cemetery next to his father, Edgar F. Mathias, Sr. (1894-1974), and mother, Yvonne Montmeny Mathias (1899-1998).

My recollection all along was that the suicide did not occur on a school day, because I remembered being out and about when word hit the street. So, Sunday makes sense. I’m sure the first hint of trouble would have been the sound of the downtown fire alarm rallying call-firemen to the station. Then speeding cars, flashing lights, sirens, and the other typical commotion brought by the loud alarm horn.

Reports started circulating about a suicide leap witnessed by Sugarloaf sightseers and an active search for the body. Kids raced to the scene on their bikes. Many of us knew Sugarloaf and its northern brother well as our childhood playgrounds.

I can’t say I remembered state trooper Ralph Olszewski finding the unconscious victim still breathing at the base of the cliffs, but that was what the newspaper reported. I knew Olszewski from the downtown drugstore. His family was from South Deerfield. In fact, a day or maybe even hours before finding the newspaper account naming him, I had read his obituary.

Isn’t it strange how things like that happen? Had I remembered Mathias’s name and found the newspaper article years ago, I could have probed Olszewski deeper for all the gory details. I often bumped into him near his River Road home in Whately, long after confidentiality restrictions had passed.

Judging from the 1967 Recorder story’s content, confidentiality policies back then weren’t nearly as strict as today’s. Not only did the paper immediately name the victim, it even reported that he had been a recent Northampton State Hospital patient and carried in his wallet papers to prove it. That would not have been reported today. At least not the next day.

Although the paper didn’t report the time of Mathias’s leap, memory tells me it occurred at midday, perhaps between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sugarloaf-reservation caretaker Charles Sadoski of Whately reported seeing Mathais “quite deliberately jump.” The newspaper was, however, wrong in reporting that Sadoski had “emerged from the summit house” just in time to witness the leap. That was impossible, because the summit house did not exist in 1967. It had been destroyed by fire some 15 months earlier, on the snowy night of March 7, 1966. Sadoski must have, instead, exited an adjacent toolshed that survived the fire.

Whoever wrote the front-page story may have missed another little tidbit that bounced around town like a Superball that day. The story I recall was that witnesses sensed something bad was about to happen when they noticed Mr. Mathias lingering in peculiar fashion along the chain-link fence bordering the cliffs. Their suspicion was validated when he pulled his wallet from his back pocket, removed his wristwatch, wrapped it around the wallet, placed the tidy packet on the pavement, scaled the fence, and took a swan dive to his death before anyone could “talk him off the ledge.”

Only the wallet is mentioned in the newspaper article, because it revealed his identity and mental-health issues.

Mathias was near death when loaded into the ambulance and pronounced dead on arrival at Franklin County Public Hospital. The official cause of death was a skull fracture but, obviously, many additional traumas would have resulted from such a fall.

So, now that I’ve pinned down the victim’s name, a blaring mystery remains. That is, where did the name Cheney Bigelow come from? I have no answer. It must, I suppose, remain a mystery buried far too deep in memory for recovery.

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