Friday, November 4, 2016

Boston 1916 Trolley Disaster Drives Off Closed Bridge

46 killed November  7, 1916  Boston 1916 Trolley Disaster Drives Off Closed Bridge At 5:25 in the evening, an overloaded streetcar of the Boston Elevated Rail Company. ignored a stop sign and careened through a warning gate at the mouth of the Summer Street drawbridge, teetering and then falling into the river.  Some riders thought the streetcar was going faster than usual.  Irishman driver  Motorman George Walsh (reported as  Gerald in the newspapers) was indicted for manslaughter but later acquitted. Motorman Walsh was rescued out of the Channel and talking too fast, said he tried desperately to stop the car, but the brakes failed him, and said the bridge attendant had not set out red warning lanterns but later later recanted, admitting their presence.  Gerald Walsh, was ultimately deemed not guilty by a jury, despite running a stop sign 200 feet before the bridge. Gerald Walsh never again drove a streetcar. This happened the same year as the July 1916 Black Tom explosion occurred when German agents set fire to a complex of warehouses and ships in Jersey City, and 10 were killed and 40 wounded Preparedness Day Bombing in San Francisco, California on July 22, 1916.

Walsh nudged the controller handle, and the car regained speed — 5, 10, 15 miles an hour, it was hard to say; inside, Patsy turned to Biggi and mentioned that they seemed to be going faster than usual. Suddenly, Walsh spotted a set of metal gates blocking the road 30 feet away. For an instant, he froze, then he grabbed the brake handle with his right hand, yanking so hard it bent. But the car was moving too fast; the wheels locked, skidding along the tracks, the metal white-hot.

Detectives and reporters waded through the throng, seeking survivors and witnesses. They found motorman Walsh, ashen, wide-eyed, talking too fast. He insisted it had been dark, that the street light now shining overhead had been out, that the warning lantern now hanging on the damaged gate was not there, either, that he had tried desperately to stop the car, but the brakes failed him.  As reporters scribbled, an Elevated official shot Walsh a look. “Haven’t I told you not to talk? Now keep quiet.”

 October 1917, Walsh went to trial in Suffolk Superior Court. Seventy-four witnesses took the stand, 
conductor backed up driver saying that the car had been moving at a normal rate of speed, nothing strange about Walsh’s driving. Defense attorney James Vahey, the carmen’s union counsel and a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said Walsh had done everything in his power to stop the car once he spotted the danger, and that the motorman would give anything to go back and live the day over.
The jury deliberated late into the night, and the next day returned a verdict: not guilty.

fter a thorough investigation, the state Public Service Commission ruled that Walsh had been wrong to run the trolley right under a small, company-installed stop sign 200 feet from the bridge, but that many bridges had no such stop signs and motormen often failed to heed them anyway. The commission called for widespread installation of larger, standardized stop signs, for mandatory stops by drivers, and for every city or town with streetcars running over drawbridges to set the warning gates at a “safe distance.” They were to be painted with white and black stripes and hung with clearly visible red lights

It exceeded and erased [my grandfather's] trolley accident as the worst in history. Several years earlier he had followed the switch from horse to electric cars. He was on a route through South Lawrence, MA and had gotten behind schedule heading north on Broadway. He stopped the car at a stop at the bottom of a small hill, the following car had brake failure on the hill and smashed into the lead car, killing about half the passengers in each car. These were open cars and somewhat smaller than the Boston cars. The local newspaper have recently destroyed all their archives, eradicating 150 years of local history. Unless some local library has microfilmed copies, there may be no record of the event. As a child, I remember there was still talk of the trolley going off the south Boston bridge but no talk of the Lawrence accident.

Boston Fire Department  Other Disasters
February 28, 1939
A Boston Elevated Railway trolley car crashed near the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and Seaver Street, Roxbury, resulting in the death of six passengers and injuring twenty-six others. The trolley was operating on the route from Egleston Square, Roxbury, to Mattapan Square, Dorchester.

The trolley was eastbound on Seaver Street when it began to accelerate down the hill on the approach to Blue Hill Avenue. As the trolley, estimated to be traveling 35mph, rounded the curve onto Blue Hill Avenue it derailed and crashed into several trees.


The 1916 trolley disaster: The accident and the era - The Boston Globe oct 29, 2016  1916 TROLLEY DISASTER: THE ACCIDENT AND THE ERA. It was election night, one century ago. The Sox had just won the ...  1916 trolley disaster: The 46 who perished - The Boston Globe
The tragedy that Boston forgot - The Boston Globe oct 29, 2016 the rush-hour ride home was something to endure, ... The lights cut out — the trolley pole slipped off the overhead wire — but ... After two early accidents, he was feeling steadier now at the controls.

A Street Car Accident Killed 46 in Boston 100 Years Ago | BostInno
Nov  7, 1916. It was 5:25 in the evening, a bustling crush of commuters riding the streetcar to... ... 100 Years Ago, A Boston Streetcar Tragedy Killed 46 .one streetcar packed with some 70 passengers, nearly double its capacity of 34, the night was about the turn much darker still. In a blink, Car 393 would careen through a warning gate at the mouth of the Summer Street drawbridge heading from Fort Point toward South Station. Its driver, desperate to stop, wouldn't have enough runway to slow momentum in time. The streetcar, and all its occupants, plunged into the channel below. In the end, 46 passengers drowned. The Boston Globe, reporting at the time, called it “the greatest catastrophe that has ever taken place” in Boston.

Summer Street Bridge Disaster in Boston - Celebrate Boston
In 1916, a streetcar full of people smashed through gates on the Summer ... list of those passengers that died as a result of the trolley accident on 11/7/1916.

The long-ago tragedy that Boston forgot -
5 days ago - The trolley car was lifted out of the channel at 3:30 a.m. Nov. 8, about 10 hours after the crash. ... 7, 1916, election night — the rush-hour ride home was something to endure, stuffy and loud: nearly 70 commuters packed into a ...

A look at the 46 people who died in a boston trolley accident on ...
The Boston Globe · @BostonGlobe ... Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1916. A look at the 46 people who died in a Boston trolley accident on Tuesday, ...

Other Disasters - Boston Fire Historical Society  the Summer Street Bridge streetcar crash of November 7, 1916, which claimed 52 lives.

RAILROAD.NET • View topic - Blast from the past!
Oct 27, 2010 - 15 posts - ‎9 authorsRe: "The worst trolley disaster in the United States" ... Motorman George Walsh (not Gerald as reported in the newspapers) was ... As a child, I remember there was still talk of the trolley going off the south Boston bridge but no ...
stumbled on this archived article from the New York Times: ... 5B868DF1D3
A contemporary account of the disastrous Fort Point Channel streetcar incident of November 7, 1916.

Re: Blast from the past!
Postby CRail » Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:32 pm

I love the lingo of the time. "Three drivers in the employ of the T. A. Scott Wrecking Company..."

I understand why hitting the brakes was not a viable solution, as I assume it was a hand brake car, but that doesn't rule out either bucking* or short-sticking** the car. I suppose it's possible that the motorman didn't even have time to do that, but I'd think he would unless he wasn't paying attention (I'm going to assume also that the gates were not illuminated given I'd see no other explanation as to why you wouldn't stop). [deliberate crash would be another explanation for not stopping]

I also find it interesting how as much as things change, the more they stay the same. While I can't see a car crew being arrested for manslaughter in such a crash (although Aiden Quinn of the green line "texting" crash was legally charged for that incident), the finger pointing and investigative procedures (shut everything down pending investigation) are pretty much right on.

Very interesting... Thanks JW!

*To buck the motors of a car you kill the overhead breaker (power to the controller and motors), turn the key to reverse, and take power on the controller (either the first point of series or parallel depending on the number of motors the car has).
**To throw the car in reverse and take power without shutting off the breaker simply powers the motors in reverse. This is called short sticking.

I haven't heard of this incident before. What was the result of the investigation? Who was at fault? Also, were they able to raise the car?

by 3rdrail » Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:31 am
Famous traction writer William D. Middleton referred to that accident as "probably the worst trolley disaster in the United States", most likely due to the horrendous and violent manner of death for those that perished.

Forty-seven passengers perished, may they rest in peace. A gentleman who had reached me through RR.Net had asked me for information about this wreck a while back as his great uncle had been the motorman. I knew a little bit about it already as I had written a small piece about the incident. It was very interesting to speak with him as well as research it further. 

Motorman George Walsh(not Gerald as reported in the newspapers) was indicted for manslaughter in Suffolk Superior Court but later acquitted. Motorman Walsh was rescued out of the Channel and at initial police questioning, denied that the bridge attendant had set out red lanterns indicating an open bridge. He later recanted, admitting their presence. 

During the investigation, the question of whether the brakes had been applied properly became an issue, as some believed that had the brakes been applied in a less severe and more controlled manner, that the wheels would not have slid accross the rails as they did with little stopping action. I have my own personal opinion as to a possible contributing cause, however since it has not appeared in any of the documents that I have read, and since there are relatives of the motorman presently alive, I shall keep it to myself. The car, which was proceeding inbound originally from the North Point Car Barn on P St., Southie, was about to cross the bridge at the time at speed, struck iron gates at the edge of the draw and jumped the tracks of the open Summer Street Drawbridge leaving it's rear truck behind, actually flipping end over end as it plunged into the Fort Point Channel. The distance reportedly to the Channel was about twenty feet and the Channel depth was listed as between thirty and thirty-five feet. The 5:30 PM crash involved a closed box car at full capacity (some passengers even riding on the vestibule steps). Tragically, some passengers on board the car were crushed between the bridge and spinning trolley, but most went into the Channel trapped inside the car where they drowned. A Coroner's Report found that many of the dead found trapped inside the submerged car showed signs of extensive bruising, indicating a violent, in vain struggle to escape within the body of the car. The chilling impression that you get from reading these reports is that the vestibule doors may have been jammed with the dead and those trying to flee the car- an underwater version of the phenomenon which killed so many people in Boston's Cocoanut Grove Fire twenty-six years later. In the murky, muddy water there was probably no light and the poor victims most likely had to contend with the disorienting condition of an enclosed box under water upside-down in darkness with no apparent means of escape. The car involved was BERy's No. 393, a twenty-five foot St. Louis Car Co. double-trucked boxcar, built in 1900. (If any of you are familiar with the Seashore Trolley Museum's 396, it was identical to that car, except that it had a closed vestibule. By Massachusetts law, all vestibules had to be enclosed by 1905. I believe that Seashore's car is still open.[??]) Amazingly, the following day, on November 8, 1916, the car was raised from the Channel and held for observation and investigation (I'm not sure if it was held "as evidence" back then.) It was found to have been in good running order at the time of the accident and had actually been inspected two hours prior to it. Some time later, it was repaired and returned to service. Apparently, crews did not want to use it as it was thought of as a bad omen. As a result, it was used very seldom and finally was converted into a wrecker in 1920.
The 94th anniversary of this tragedy will be in about nine days.
A little difficult to read (use the "enlarge" feature by clicking on the page), but here's a copy of an article written about the crash in the "Electric Railway Journal" of the time. ... eWreck.jpg