Burlington, NJ Bridge Collapses Under Trolley Car, Dec 1911





Special to The New York Times.
Burlington, N. J., Dec. 19. -- Eleven persons were rescued in boats from a trolley car of the Riverside Traction Company that crashed through the East Pearl Street bridge over Assiscunk Creek late this afternoon. The entire eighty-foot iron span carrying trolley, wagon, and foot bridge collapsed..
The coolness of the motorman, E. H. HUNTER, who stuck to his post and applied the emergency brakes, kept the big car from sliding into midstream, the rear end partly resting on the abutment when the car settled.
The wrecked car was one of the largest employed in through trolley traffic. Fortunately, the eight passengers, the crew and a company superintendent were the only persons on the car. The rescued passengers and crew are MISS ADA DANIELS, Burlington; MISS REBECCA MICHAELS, Hedding; MRS. ELI HELLINGER, Florence; WILLIAM WILLIAMS, Burlington; CHARLES CAMP, Florence; RICHARD ROE, Burlington; DR. WILLIAM FITZPATRICK, Burlington; MACON ORMOND, Florence; E. R. HUNTER, motorman; WILLIAM JACOBY, conductor; CHARLES LUDLAN, traction superintendent.
In the smoking compartment, pinned under wreckage, with only their heads above water, CAMP and DR. FITZPATRICK were caught in a trap. When EDWARD JAMES and EDWARD GRIFFITH, employes of the Severns Lumber Mills on the adjacent shore, reached the wreck in a boat they cut with axes through the roof of the car at the water line, meanwhile calling encouragement to the two trapped riders, who collapsed from chill and shock when finally dragged into the boat.
Other boat crews chopped away the iron window bars that held the three women prisoners in the other end of the car. The rear of the car remained on the east abuttment of the bridge when the structure collapsed, thus preventing the car from being entirely submerged.
HUNTER, the motorman, when he saw the bridge crumble in front of him, put on the safety brakes, and this alone prevented the car from sliding fully into the deep water of the channel. HUNTER was carried down with his car, but managed to free himself. He swam to the surface and clung to a section of wreckage until rescued.
A general fire alarm turned in by witnesses of the accident brought the city department to the scene with ladders to aid in the rescue. Employes left the mills and foundries, and fully 5,000 persons were at the scene within ten minutes after the crash.
Reports that two children, seen in the centre of the bridge just before it collapsed, had been swept into the stream could not be verified at a late hour.
The police heard of several missing children, but all were later found among the spectators at the wreck. Fishermen thought they had found a body in the submerged end of the car late tonight, but the object, whatever it was, slipped from their boat hooks as they were drawing it to the surface.
JACOBY, the conductor, says that but eight fares had been rung up and that all the passengers were rescued.
The bridge was built in 1881 by Freeholder STACY SCOTT. For three years, say city officials, it has been condemned as unsafe. The new company, which has recently taken over the trolley line, was contemplating its remodeling. Engineers, who have viewed the twisted wreck of iron, disagree as to the cause of the collapse. Electrolysis weakening the spans is blamed by some, while others say that neglect on the part of county Inspectors, who failed to clean the rollers, on which the contraction and expansion of the frame with cold and heat was taken up, made the bridge collapse. So complete is its destruction that only a single arch remained above the water, and this crashed through the roof of the trolley as it fell.
Survivors tell of the fierce struggle for life inside the car that followed the crash of the bridge. CHARLES CAMP, a Florence merchant, was in the smoking compartment talking with DR. FITZPATRICK.
"We were in the water in an instant," he said, "the water was above the windows before we had a chance to think of breaking out that way. We got caught in some wreckage, but managed to hold our heads above water against the roof."
"It seemed we were there an hour in the chilling water before somebody chopped a hole in the car roof and pulled us out. MRS. ELI HOLLINGER of Florence was in the front of the passenger compartment, and was thrown to the floor. She was badly stunned, but managed to get out of the water and to a window. To this she clung until a fisherman with an axe cut away the iron bars outside the glass. MRS. HOLLINGER is stout, and when rescuers attempted to pull her through the narrow window she became wedged in the frame, and an extra section had to be chopped from the side of the car to release her."
HARRY AUSTON, one of the first to reach the wreck in a boat, saw the accident from the shore.
"I heard a crash," said he, "and looked up just in time to see the entire bridge fall into the water with the car on the east end. Three of us quickly launched a boat and paddled to the aid of the passengers."
A butcher's wagon was driving on the bridge at the west end as the structure fell. A falling wire struck the horse's head and the animal reared back, saving himself and his driver from going over.
On the High Street siding a car with forty passengers, most of them women Christmas shoppers, homeward bound, was waiting to cross the bridge.

The New York Times New York 1911-12-20