Chicago, IL Street Car Green Hornet Disaster, May 1950

Green Hornet Street Car replica

Thirty-Three Die in Chicago Street Car Fire

Trolley Hits Gas Trailer; Horror Scene

Traffic Snarled as 20,000 Rush to Area

Chicago, Mary 26 - (AP) - A wall of fire enveloped a crowded street car after it struck a double trailer gasoline rtuck[sic] last night and 33 persons perished in the flames.

Thirty others were injured, at least three critically. About 20 remained in hospitals. Many of the dead and injured were Negroes.

The spreading flames from the thousands of gallons of gasoline in the huge truck set fire to eight two story buildings and several automobiles. No bodies were found in the wrecked buildings. But more than 100 persons - mostly Negroes - were made homeless.

The accident occurred near the end of the evening rush hour - 5:30 p. m. -- near the heavily populated 63rd and State street district, on the city's south side.

Crash - and Deep Roar
The crash and a deep roar were followed by black smoke and billowing flames that surged along State street like rolling flood waters.

Panic followed the crash.
And there was terror and confusion at the scene long into the night. Thirty-three pieces of fire equipment answered the extra-alarm fire. Four hundred policemen were on duty.

Traffic snarled as more than 20,000 persons milled in the vicinity, flocking to the scene of Chicago's worst street car accident.

The frantic, trapped passengers screamed hysterically as they fought to flee from the flaming street car. Thirty-two of the estimated 48 passengers burned to death, their lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes after the collision. Many of their bodies were piled in a charred mass at the rear doors.

Truck Driver Dies.
The truck driver perished in the cab of his truck. It was loaded with between 7,000 and 8,000 gallons of gasoline.

Twelve hours after the crash only 15 of the dead were identified. Many were burned beyond recognition. One was believed to have been the motorman, PAUL MANNING, 42.

Rear Doors Jam
The conductor escaped by jumping through a rear window. About 15 passengers escaped in the same manner, many of them with clothes aflame. The rear doors on the street car jammed and the Chicago Transit Authority ordered an investigation.

The crash occurred as the street can, one of the new streamlined cars, moving south on State street, swung suddenly to the left to enter a switch back siding in a vacant lot on the east side of the street. A flooded underpass at 64th street had made it necessary to reroute the car.

Car, Truck Crash
Witnesses said the car crashed into the northbound truck. Gasoline poured out of the torn sides of the trailers, spilling and spraying over the street car into the street.

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Comments

Streetcar-gasoline truck crash, Chicago 1950

I've read many reports of this and all state that the flagman "waved frantically" but the Streetcar did not slow down for the turn, and the driver of the gasoline truck did not stop either. Why would that be? My answer is that the flagman was NOT there. Streetcars in Chicago in those days ran frequently--probably every minute or two. The flagman was there to alert streetcar motormen that the switch was open and the car was going to make a turn and be rerouted instead of going straight. The flagman must have abondoned his post briefly--maybe needed to use the toilet in a nearby business or something--and hoped he'd be back in time for the next streetcar, but he was not. If he had been there the gasoline truck driver would have stopped for the turning streetcar and the motorman in the streetcar would have stopped if the gasoline truck had not. But neither the truck driver nor the streetcar motorman knew that the streetcar was going to turn, and that can only have happened if the flagman was NOT there "waving frantically." That's the only way this could have happened, and I'm sure people at the time suggested it but were paid off or threatened not to pursue the matter. If there were witnesses who stated that the flagman was not there, they were probably also paid off or threatened, and Chicago was notorious for crooked government and law enforcement. So the Chicago transit authority was never held accountable. The newspapers made a point of stating that most of the passengers in the streetcar were "negros" and that the surrounding buildings that were destroyed were "negro housing," probably for the purpose of minimizing the likelihood of public outrage in those racist days.