Officials Probe Eckington Streetcar Disaster

This looks bad. And, it is as bad as it looks. I came across this old photo on Shorpy (of course). It was a major streetcar derailment that injured 35 passengers, resulting in the arrest of both the motorman and the conductor.

Eckington streetcar accident (1919)

Eckington streetcar accident (1919)

Read what the Washington Post had to say about it on August 2nd, 1919 …

Officials of the Washington Railway and Electric Company and the Public Utilities Commission are today carrying on an extensive investigation to fix the responsibility for the accident which occurred yesterday at Second and R streets northeast, when a street car turned over, injuring 35 persons.

Immediately after the accident, which occurred at 8:30 yesterday morning, special agents of the commission under A. C. Putnam were dispatched to the scene with full power to investigate all phases of the accident. F. J. Mersheimer, claim agent of the company, and a number of assistants are also investigating the matter.

Mr. Mersheimer said last night that, although he would not issue a statement, he would say that there was nothing the matter with the brakes. He would not say who was to blame for the accident.

Thirty-five passengers are known to have been injured, and it is believed that at least a score besides are suffering from shock and minor bruises as a result of the accident, which is one of the most serious that has occurred in the history of the line.

The accident occurred when the car approached a sharp curve at Second and R streets. The curve is at the foot of a steep incline. The car was bound for the city and was loaded with men and women. The register shows that there were 95 persons on the car.

The car was southbound on Second street. It attempted to round the curve, but was traveling at too high a rate of speed to make the turn. The front wheel truck left the track and continued across the street until it was stopped by the curbing. The impact of the truck with the curb caused the body of the car to become loosened.

Several men who were on the car, as soon as the body hit the ground, began climbing over the other passengers to get out. William F. Cahill, of Eckington Manor, who was lying at the bottom of a heap of passengers, called out to the men to lie still until some one came to extricate them.

A crowd soon gathered, and with several men who were uninjured, helped the men and women out of the car. As soon as the passengers were taken from the car they were placed in automobiles and trucks which had been commandeered by Capt. Robert E. Doyle, of the Eight precinct, and taken to the various hospitals.

The work of getting the passengers out of the car and to the hospitals was helped by Lieut. Langdon Spooner and Lieut. J. H. Robbings, a navy medican [sic] officer. Lieut. Spooner, who belongs to the motor transport corps, was a passenger on the car and saved himself from injury by jumping through a window just as the car turned over …

Benjamin Maddox, 39, of 2118 Fourth street northeast, was the conductor of the car, and John Riley, of 302 V stret [sic], was the motorman. Both of the men were arrested by Capt. Doyle and Detective Jerry Sullivan.

Maddox received slight injuries, and was treated at Casualty Hospital, but was later taken to Police Station No. 8. Riley was thrown through the front window of the car, receiving slight injuries to his leg, but was also taken to Police Station No. 8.

What a crazy accident scene. I can’t imagine something like this happening today, but Metrobus drivers are a little reckless on occasion. Wait … there’s more.

Anita Sweaninger, of 2912 Sixteenth street, who received a deep gash in her head in the accident, last night reported to the police that in the accident or while she was on her way to the Casualty Hospital in a private car, she was robbed of $40 which she was carrying in the pocket of her middy blouse. Adaline Bartlett, of 1838 Jackson street northeast, reported to the police that she lost during the accident a purse containing $100.

Seriously? In the middle of a horrific accident, someone has the audacity to rob these victims? Unreal.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502660746 David Fielding

    It’s like Metro before Metro. Did they allow eating and drinking? Did people get closed in the doors trying to cram on?

  • B’dale Res

    This sounds pretty terrible. The writer mentions he can’t imagine it these days. Don’t forget about terrible metro crash 2 – 3 years ago. That was beyond terrible.

  • http://www.ghostsofdc.org Ghosts of DC

    B’dale Res … that’s a good point. That was a horrible and tragic accident beyond belief, for more devastating than this one.

  • Kelly

    I pass by this intersection twice a day, and I can say this is still a rather dangerous intersection, due mainly now to idiots who try to turn the wrong way onto 2nd from R. The embankment the folks in the background are standing on is still there, and it is still a vacant lot. Of course I don’t know if it’s been vacant this whole past century, but I doubt it. Looking a ways to the left of the frame you’ll now see luxury condos sandwiched by a few row house holdouts who wouldn’t sell. Good for them. I live in Eckington across from the former car barn where this very rail car may have been housed prior to the accident. The neighborhood is changing so much, for the better!

  • sluggyjunx

    Horrible accident, but amazing opportunity to see what the bottom of a streetcar actually looked like. Thanks for sharing.

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