Syracuse, NY Auto Race Catastrophe, Sep 1911








Women and Children in Gathering of 60,000 Overcome -- More of the Injured May Die.

Special to The New York Times.
Syracuse, N. Y., Sept. 16. -- Nine persons are dead and fourteen others are suffering from serious injuries as the result of one of the worst accidents in the history of automobile racing in this country. The accident occurred at the State Fair grounds here at 5:30 o'clock this afternoon, when a Knox racer, driven by LEE OLDFIELD, jumped from the circular track and, plunging through a rail fence, crashed into the crowd. Six persons were killed outright, two others died on the way to the hospital, and another died soon after his arrival at the hospital.
The Dead:
ARNOLD, FRED J., Syracuse; died in ambulance.
BALLANTYNE, CHARLES E., bank clerk, Syracuse.
COIN, JOSEPH, Alexandria Bay, N. Y.
FUNK, FAYETTE, Farleyville.
HALPIN, LEO, Lakewood, a suburb of Syracuse, a helper at the fair grounds.
HAMIL, CLAUDE, Hammond, N. Y.
UNKNOWN MAN, 60 years of age.
UNKNOWN BOY, about 10 years of age, who had the top of his head taken off; supposed to be a son of FRED J. ARNOLD.
UNKNOWN MAN, in his coat pocket was found a postal card addressed to Rose Myers, Arabia, N. Y.
The Injured:
BRADLEY, H. R., Franklin, N. Y.; condition serious.
DOOLEY, CHARLES, Syracuse; hip injured and body bruised.
McLAUGHLIN, WILLIAM, Syracuse; head cut.
MINER, WILLIAM, Syracuse; left leg broken.
OLDFIELD, LEE, driver of the car; fractured rib and internal injuries.
"PETE THE GREEK," so known locally; knees cut.
SHARKEY, WILLIAM, Syracuse, driver for American Express Company; internal injuries; condition serious.
VERRETTE, REGINALD, Syracuse, 7 years old; right arm broken in two places.
YONKER, MISS ANNA, Syracuse; leg broken.
Five other persons were reported by the Syracuse police as injured, but their names are not yet available.
Race Excites Crowd.
The accident occurred during the fifty-mile race. The cars were speeding around the track at a high rate and the great crowd was worked up to an extreme pitch of excitement. OLDFIELD in his Knox auto was circling the track at a speed so terrific that his machine looked like a shadow as he sped by the cheering crowds. A fraction of a second before the accident OLDFIELD seemed to have his car under perfect control. THe spectators behind the fence were jammed together eight and ten deep. Suddenly it was seen that OLDFIELD'S car was out of his control, and a second later the sputtering, smoking thing shot like a rocket into the fence. The fence gave way like so much paper, and the machine hurled itself into the shrieking crowd.
So sudden was the tragedy enacted that those in the path of the on-rushing machine hardly had time to move an inch before it was upon them.
The six who were killed outright were hurled in all directions, their bodies terribly mangled. The three others who died, two on the way to the hospital, and a third soon after arriving there, were badly mangled.
The screams of the injured and the cries of the terrified people who escaped were heartrending. Doctors from all parts of the great crowd, which was estimated at 60,000, the largest that ever paid its way into a Syracuse fair, hurried to the scene to give aid to the injured. There was plenty of work for all to do. The injured were taken in hand and as fast as ambulances arrived were hurried to the Emergency Hospital on the fair grounds.
Women In Hysterics.
The dead were also taken there. Relatives and friends of the victims, dead and living, rushed to the hospital with others who sought to learn whether or not this or that relative or friend was among the dead or injured. Everywhere women were in hysterics and children were screaming out in terror, so great was the panic that followed the accident.
OLDFIELD, the driver of the machine, is among those injured. He is in the hospital with a fractured rib and severe internal injuries, but has a chance to recover.
The accident happened during the forty-third mile of the fifty-mile race, which was the feature of the day. There were nine contestants, and besides OLDFIELD thre were two other drivers, RALPH DE PALMA anad BOB BURMAN, two of the most noted racing automobilists in this country. The track was not in the best of condition, a fact that had been noted by the drivers.
President TAFT, who was a guest at the fair, had left only a few minutes before the accident occurred. His car had been driven over part of the track on its way to the main entrance, and for this reason the officials had had the entire track sprinkled with water in order to clear the dust for the President's departure.
The previous event, the race for the Brazard Cup, had been held up for some time, because both DE PALMA and BURMAN refused to race on the track on account of its condition. The matter had been argued for some time with the officials, and this had held up the programme.
This had delayed the start of the fifty-mile event, and as it had been widely advertised as the feature of the day, the crowd increased by several thousand during the delay.
Early in the race DE PALMA developed tire troubles. OLDFIELD, at the end of the twenty-fifth mile, was only a lap behind DE PALMA, who had been delayed because of his tires. The two automobiles had been maintaining pretty nearly a distance of a lap apart, and the excitement among the spectators who lined the track was intense as the OLDFIELD car, when the twenty-fifth mile post was passed, began to creep up on the fast-going DE PALMA.
OLDFIELD had troubles of his own. His right front tire had thrown a part of the shoe. This could be seen revolving and beating the track as he circled the course. Efforts were made to get him to stop and replace the bad tire, but his manager was seen to urge him onward and to motion to him to increase his speed.
OLDFIELD continued to gain slightly despite the condition of the tire. The race was neck and neck, with DE PALMA, in frequent bursts of speed, keeping ever ahead of OLDFIELD. The broken shoe could be plainly seen by the spectators. OLDFIELD up to the fortieth mile had been taking the first quarter turn carefully, shutting down the power in front of the grand stand.
Apparently intent upon gaining on DE PALMA, he evidently decided to make speed at the expense of caution, for after the fortieth mile he stopped shutting off speed when taking the first quarter.
The officials and others by the track noticed that OLDFIELD was no longer slowing down at the quarter, and there was much speculation as to his reason. The officials figured that the driver believed DE PALMA'S tire troubles would re-occur and that OLDFIELD was waiting to take advantage of DE PALMA'S anticipated stop and stop himself at the same time and fix his own tire.
Car Leaps In The Air.
At 5:30, as DE PALMA and OLDFIELD rounded the turn into the forty-third mile, OLDFIELD had crept up upon his opponent until his car was nosing the rear of DE PALMA'S machine. DE PALMA swept around the first quarter of this mile. Scarcely a yard behind came OLDFIELD, and as the latter ran well into the quarter there was a loud report. The spectators saw OLDFIELD'S machine leap into the air for a few feet, then settle back on its four wheels, continue its made pace, and then crash squarely into the fence, which separated a dense crowd from the crouse.
Men, women, and children struggled to get out of its track, and some were successful, the car speeding past them at a distance of less than a few inches. Those unhurt were piled one on top of the other, a heap of scrambling, screaming humanity, flanking the wrecked car.
The car ran twenty feet before it stopped. OLDFIELD was thrown out and he was unconscious when help reached him. The car, when its progress was checked, turned on its side. One man's body was hurled into the air and landed in the crowd some feet from the place where it struck. A boy was decapitated.
But little of all this was seen by those in the grand stand, and it was at first thought by the officials of the race that no one had been injured, and a statement to that effect was made. On the field near the scene of the accident was the most intense excitement, and after the car stopped people flocked there.
Then began the work of taking care of the wounded and carrying away the dead. Ambulances were sent to all the hospitals in Syracuse and trucks at the fair grounds were called in to aid in transferring the injured to the Emergency Hospital. The Woman's Building was turned into a hospital, and there many were attended to who received minor injuries in the rush to escape death. Doctors and clergy came from the city to minnister to the dying and injured.
From the fair grounds the injured were taken to St. Joseph, the Good Shepherd and the Women's and Children's Hospitals.
DE PALMA Keeps On Racing.
Unaware that the accident had been serious DE PALMA, who had been startled by the explosion as OLDFIELD'S car left the track, kept on racing. Through the officals were aware that spectators had been killed they refused to call off the event, and DE PALMA finished the fiftieth mile. Police arrangements were inadequate, and after the accident the crowd broke bounds and many crossed the track while DE PALMA was still speeding on. That no one was killed in doing so was a miracle. OLDFIELD said:
"I don't know how it happened. I heard my tire blow up, then I went through the fence. After that everything was a blank. When I came to I was being lifted from the top of another man on whom I had landed."
It has been many a day since Syracuse has put in two such hours of anxiety as elapsed between 5:30 and 7:30 o'clock tonight. Of the 65,000 people on the grounds to see the races, fully 50,000 were from this city. The State fair grounds are five miles from Syracuse, and owing to the immense crowd on the grounds railroad traffic was greatly congested, and it was not until 8 o'clock that the last of the race crowd was transported to Syracuse.
News of the accident came through newspaper extras and people who had relatives at the races became panic stricken. Newspaper offices were besieged with anxious inquiries, and the few telephone wires to the fair grounds were swamped.
It is the general impression that today's disaster sound the knell of motor car racing on the State Fair tracks.
That DE PALMA did not figure in the smash-up is regarded as remarkable. Almost immediately after crossing the finishing line, one of his rear tires exploded, but no damage was done.
The bodies of those instantly killed were removed to an adjacent barn until a dead wagon removed them to city morgues. The car which was the cause of the terrible fatality was registered as driven by FRED BELCHER, and his name appeared in this connection on the programme. For some reason, BELCHER did not start, and OLDFIELD took his place.
Aid was volunteered by scores of physicians, and there were many offers from trained nurses who were in the vast throng. One woman torn off all of her garments that bandages might be provided for the wounded. Her sister was injured, but she stuck heroically to her task and continued to provide bandages until she had no more material from which to improvise them.
OLDFIELD, the driver, is being guarded by an officer, and as soon as he recovers will be arrested.
FAYETTE FUNK, one of the dead, was the manager of a diving girls' show on the Midway.

The New York Times New York 1911-09-17


Driver of the car

The driver was to be arrested? I wonder what came of that. At the New York State Fair Museum on the fairgrounds, a display says that this was car #11 and 11 people were killed in this 1911 tragedy.