The Rubbernecking Crash

The Rubbernecking Crash

On October 1, 1927, four travelers died in Milford when their Chevy sedan was carried 500 feet by an oncoming train at Richardson’s Crossing. In a bizarre twist, it seems the driver of the car was distracted by the wreckage of yet another automobile accident that had taken place in the same spot the previous week.

Perusing the pages of old newspapers is often an exercise in reading about preventable fatalities. Deaths by drowning, electrocution, poisons, fire and mishandled weapons were ubiquitous before the safety codes (and ever-hovering lawsuits) we have today. Perhaps no place was more dangerous in the early 20th Century than the road, particularly if that road crossed railroad tracks. Driving in automobiles unsafe at any speed, passengers sat in cabins full of protruding sharp gadgets and windshields made of real glass – and of course, without seatbelts. Automobiles had also quickly outpaced the primitive road and traffic infrastructure that existed.

The events surrounding Richardson’s Crossing in the fall of 1927 were so absurd that they might have been comic – if they hadn’t been so tragic for those involved. At this railroad crossing at which eight fatalities took place within three years, 26-year-old William Tully’s pine logging truck was hit by a locomotive on September 21. The passenger train involved only stopped at signal and was racing about seven minutes late when it plowed into the Mack truck, tossing logs 75 feet and lifting the front end of the locomotive into the air. The ambulance was delayed when a driver couldn’t be found and Tully died at the scene. That was bad enough but what happened the following Sunday was downright freakish. Apparently, Tully’s mangled car was allowed to sit in the same spot for more than 10 days as Louis Jordan and his party of four drove through Milford on their way from Jamaica Plain to a weekend in South Lyndeboro. Jordan was reportedly distracted by the site of the twisted automobile and stopped on the tracks as a freight train traveling at speed bore down on the car – whistle blasting but with no way to stop in time. Louis’s wife Margaret and Cora Getchel were killed instantly, while Jordan and family friend Margaret Fitzgerald died three hours later at St. Joseph’s. Even after these two crashes more chaos ensued. Police officers struggled to keep rubberneckers at bay throughout Sunday, resulting in at least two more collisions, thankfully not fatal. These wild early days in the horseless carriage were dangerous indeed.

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