Seattle, WA Green Lake Streetcar Wreck, Jan 1920

Seattle WASH Green Lake streetcar crash 1-5-1920.jpg



Seattle, Wash. -- Motorman M. R. FULLERTON left the Fremont streetcar barn early on Monday morning, January 5, 1920, operating streetcar No. 721, a large "700 series" coach, for the commuter-run from Green Lake to downtown Seattle. It was still dark outside with a heavy mist in the air. At about 7:10 a.m., FULLERTON made the last stop before the "S" curve, at N. 42nd Street and Woodland Park Avenue, and then proceeded down a moderate four-degree grade. The streetcar was carrying more than 100 sitting and standing passengers on route to work.
FULLERTON noticed immediately that the streetcar was going too fast to make the mandatory safety stop just before the sharp curve, and began applying the air-brakes. The brakes began to take hold but then something broke and the air-brakes lost compression. He applied the handbrake and sand but with no effect, the heavy streetcar continued gaining momentum. FULLERTON then reversed the motor and applied power, locking the wheels. The streetcar continued sliding down the slippery tracks into the sharp curve.
The rear trucks jumped the track, swinging the car 180 degrees. When the trucks hit the curb, the streetcar turned over, crashing broadside into a utility pole with such force that the car was almost cut in two. The front trucks sheared off the chassis and went skidding across the street, landing upside-down against the far curb.
Many injured passengers were carried to nearby homes to await medical attention. Those able to help themselves crawled out of the wreckage and stood by in a vacant lot where someone built a bonfire.
Initially, it was reported that several passengers had been killed. As victims were removed from the wreckage, there were rumors the death-toll could be more than half-a-dozen victims. After about one-half hour's work, Municipal Street Railway officials determined there had been no deaths in the crash but that at least 70 had been injured, several very seriously. The majority of the victims were taken directly to the City Hospital where a special ward had been set up to handle the emergency.
JOSEPH PFISTER, 36, of 7550 Crescent Place, an employee of the Pacific, Telephone & Telegraph Company, as seriously injured and taken to City Hospital. He was described as badly bruised and cut about the head and neck.
PAUL F. BEHNKE, 35, a boilerman, became the streetcar accident's only fatality. He died due to complications from a skull fracture.

From www.HistoryLink.org 1920-01-05