Judy Hunt Charest always wondered why on Christmas Eve her father would hug her a little tighter than usual. The hugs always seemed a little more tender and a little more affectionate than any other day of the year. When Judy was 21 years old, her mother Margurite Hunt revealed the heartbreaking family secret. She had never told Judy because she was so ashamed of what happened two decades ago on the Christmas Eve of 1956.
Margurite had been spiraling into a severe mental illness, and at the time most hadn’t heard of it — bipolar disorder. While many dismissed it as the “baby blues,” Margurite was hurting inside. On the day before Christmas, when Judy was only three months old, Margurite took her to the highest point of the Shelby Street Bridge and together they dove 90 feet into the icy cold waters of the Cumberland River. Yet, both mother and daughter would live to tell the tale. See this incredible family’s story as reported by WSMV’s Dennis Ferrier.
“I was 3 months old, and in that three months, my mother had gotten increasingly ill,” Judy said. “They kept saying it’s the baby blues, it’s the baby blues. She’s going to come out of it, don’t worry about it. But then she disappeared with me on Christmas Eve. She drove to the Shelby Street Bridge, got as high as she could and jumped with me in her arms.” That’s when Nashville Bridge Company worker Harold Hogue jumped into the icy water to pull Judy out. Another bridge worker, John Knox dived into save Judy’s mom Margurite.
“Jack got to Momma. They say when Mom hit the water, the psychosis she was in, that cold water shocked her back to reality,” Judy said. “So he gets to Mom and she starts screaming, ‘My baby, my baby.’ And Jack realizes it was a child.” Judy and Margurite were pulled onto a tug boat. While the men focused on rescucitating Margurite, only Harold had hope that baby Judy had survived. He bounced Judy in his arms and the water from her lungs was expelled.
“Mr. Hogue ran up the bank bouncing me all the way. I began to cough and breathe and then cry. Had he cradled me, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” she says. “No water in my lungs, no broken bones. I was perfectly fine. It was a miracle for both of us.” After the incident, Margurite was one of the first woman in Tennessee diagnosed with bipolar disorder. With treatment, she lived a happy, healthy life. Still, the mother kept the secret and shame of what she did to her baby girl for 21 years until she finally told Judy. Finally, 59 years after the incident, Judy is coming forward with her story.
“I think by the end, Mom had forgiven herself. She had a real hard time with that. I would say over and over, ‘It’s a miracle. Look what we have.’ A lot would have stopped that day, but it didn’t,” says Judy. “I have talked to doctors, paramedics, firemen, and have said what are the odds of a baby at three months being dropped off a bridge in the Cumberland River below freezing. No, absolutely not, not possible. Yet here I am.”
Recently, she reunited with the man who saved her: Harold Hogue. Harold never forgot about the day and every year on Christmas Eve the family gathers ’round to hear the story of the little girl he saved. Judy admits that his embrace was familiar. “When he put his arms around me, it felt so familiar. It just felt so familiar. It was so natural,” she said. “We had a wonderful visit. We talk all the time now.”