Pittsburgh, PA Donnelly Building Elevator Crash Kills Four, May 1903


Passenger Elevator, in Donnelly Building, Pittsburg, Falls With Disastrous Results
A Dance Was in Progress Upstairs and the Elevator Was Crowded
Bodies of Dead Were Horribly Mangled and Identification Proved Difficult

Pittsburg, May 23. – It was almost noon before all the victims of last night’s froghtful elevator accident at the Donnelly building were identified. Large crowds surrounded the entrance of the morgue all night, awaiting information as to the identification of the four bodies that had been taken there from the scene of the accident.
The bodies were so badly disfigured and distorted that thoro identification was only possible thrue marks on the clothing worn, and as some had no marks on their clothing, identification was impossible until friends inquired for them because missed from their homes. The unknown woman is thought to have come from some of the suburban towns, and the remains will likely be identified later.
The casualty list as furnished by the coroner and obtained from the hospitals is:

The dead:
Miss MAMIE CURTIN, 18 years old, of Hazelwood, Pa
Miss SUSIE FLANAGAN, 9 years old, of 427 Woodland avenue, Allegheny
RAYDEN P. F. FLOHR, 28 years old, of McKees Rocks

The injured:
Albert Myers, 23 years old, dislocation of right hip and compound fracture of right leg.
Harry Lipson, 22 years old, scalp wounds.
Miss Katie Flannigan, 27 years old.
Mrs. Lulu Postelwaite, 46 years old.
Miss Margaret Postelwaite, 17 years old, daughter of Mrs. Lulu Postelwaite, suffering from nervous shock.
Charles Blonde, 18 years old.
Fannie Simond, 20 years old.
John Morrison, 35 years old.
Frank S. Amrock, 28 years old.
L. N. Gillis, 40 years old.
Mrs. L. N. Gillis.
L. N. Gillis.
Three-year-old child of Mr. and Mrs.
Unknown man about 47 years old, bruised and cut; is unconscious; at the Mercy hospital.

All the injured are suffering from severe cuts and bruises, but with the exception of the unknown man, it is thought all will recover.
Coroner McGeary and his assistants were kept busy thruout the night answering telephone calls from friends and others anxious to ascertain particulars. The coroner at the earliest time possible sent out summonses for a jury to inquire into the cause of the accident and to fix responsibility. This jury met in the courtroom of the morgue building at 10 o’clock this morning and a rigid investigation was at once started.
After the jury had been sworn and had viewed the remains of the victims, friends were given permission to remove the dead to their homes.

Car Was Overweighted and the Cable Broke.

A banquet and ball was being held in the building by the Pennsylvania Electro-Mechanical institute, and every available portion of the fifth and sixth floors was crowded by members of the institute and their friends.
At about 10 o’clock the elevator with a load of thirteen passengers started for the banuqet room on the sixth floor. When that floor was reached it was found that every place was crowded, and the passengers decided to go to the fifth floor where the dancing was in progress. When between the sixth and fifth floors the steel cable snapped, and with a resounding crash that was heard blocks away the carriage dropped with its load of human freight.
It smashed thru the floor above the cellar of the building, and was stopped by a braced post of wood, three feet below the first floor. In this inaccessible position the passengers were jammed under broken timbers and twisted steel, and then the heavy iron balance weights, weighing over a ton came crashing down upon it. Miraculously all but four were able to scramble out. The others were pinioned under the heavy weight. Four were smashed almost beyond recognition.
Albert Myers was held a prisoner for more than an hour. While firemen and volunteer rescuers were preparing riggings to lift the machine so as to be accessible he lay pinioned under the wreckage. Whisky and water were passed to him with words of encouragement. A fireman endangered his life by dropping into the mass of wreckage and holding the injured man’s head.
When the accident occurred more than 400 men, women and children were on the dancing floor. As the elevator struck the bottom a cloud of dust blew into the room from the open elevator door. Quickly Harry Gilson closed the entrance and cried: “Take your partners for a two-step.” Scores of policemen were present and ordered all persons n the building to remain quiet. In this way the people were all allowed to pass from the building by relays, avoiding a panic that might have resulted in many more fatalities.
Superintendent of Police McTighe ordered the arrest of Professor L. N. Giles, a mechanical engineer and instructor of the Pennsylvania Electro-Mechanical institute who at the time of the accident was running the elevator. It is alleged that he allowed the elevator to be overcrowded and that he had no experience in running an elevator and was partly responsible for the accident.
Later Coroner McGeary formally charged him with murder. Gillis is a mechanical engineer and was instructed at the institute.

The Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis Minnesota Saturday Evening, 23 May 1903

History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1889 Read it online

Memoirs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania : personal and genealogical, with portraits Read it online

History of Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania 1886 Read it online

Allegheny County : a sesqui-centennial review 1938 Read it online

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