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Edward M. Fossler’s Tragic Death at the New Willard Hotel in 1903

This macabre story from the Washington Post in 1903 chronicles the tragic death of Edward M. Fossler, an elevator conductor at the New Willard Hotel. Learn more about this gruesome accident and the hotel that wasn't even fully complete yet.
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So, this is a really crazy story. I came across the following headline in the Washington Post from August 15th, 1903. Okay, you piqued my macabre interest. I have to read this one.

Edward M. Fossler article headline in Washington Post on August 15th, 1903
Edward M. Fossler article headline in Washington Post on August 15th, 1903

Edward M. Fossler, aged eighteen years, an elevator conductor at the New Willard Hotel, was killed at 4 o’clock yesterday by being caught between the elevator and the casement of the shaft as the elevator shot upward. Fossler’s body fell to the basement as the elevator struck the top of the shaft on the tenth floor. Nearly every bone in Fossler’s body was broken.

No one saw the accident and the cause is a matter of conjecture. Clerk C. L. Williams and F. M. Byrne, electrician at the hotel, were the first to reach the foot of the elevator, where the body lay. The body was nearly torn in twain, the head was cut and bruised, the skull fractured, and the legs broken. The body struck the heavy iron beams at the bottom of the shaft.

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You see what I mean about this stuff being gruesome? The media would never report a tragedy like this today. The article (that I didn’t full quote because it was worse than this) about the woman jumping down the Washington Monument elevator shaft was intense.

The elevator, which is No. 3 of the passenger service, opens on the ladies’ entrance. It is thought Fossler had stepped off the elevator at the second floor, and that while he was off the car started up and was moving when Fossler observed it. he jumped for the car, it is supposed , and he was caught between the shaft and the floor of the door and dragged upward. Other elevator conductors say they heard a noise and observed the cables stop as the cage reached the top floor. The contact of the cage with the ironwork at the top of the shaft shook the body loose and it was dashed down the ten stories to the basement.

Sergt. Kilmartin and Policeman McDonald were soon on the scene, and called Acting Coroner Glazebrook. Ho ordered the morgue wagon to the hotel and with the assistance of the police the body was removed from the hotel.

The management of the hotel and the authorities set to work to find the dead man’s friends and relatives. It was learned that Fossler was eighteen years of age and roomed with his brother Frank Fossler, at 830 Twelfth street northwest. His home was in Bellefontaine, Ohio, at 622 East Sandusky street, where his parents, well known and respected people, reside. The brother in this city is a clerk in the War Department. Edward Fossler came to Washington about a year ago to attend school and it was only as a secondary matter that he had accepted work as elevator conductor at the New Willard, on July 20. He had been employed for a short time at the Raleigh Hotel and also at the Kenilworth cafe.

A few days ago a sister of the brothers visited Washington, and afterward, in company with Frank Fossler, went to Philadelphia for a short visit. They were notified of their brother’s death last night, as also were the parents.

The body was removed to the morgue and later turned over the Undertaker Lee. The brother and sister are expected from Philadelphia this morning.

What an awful death and an incredibly tragic story. Edward had only been working at the Willard for approximately a month before he met a violent end.

By the way, the hotel wasn’t even fully complete yet. Construction finished the following year.

Lobby of the Willard in the early 1900s (Library of Congress)
Lobby of the Willard in the early 1900s (Library of Congress)
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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.