Columbia, PA Terrible Trolley Crash, Aug 1896
Going at a High Rate of Speed.
About this time it is estimated that the car was going at a speed of fully fifty miles an hour, and some even believe it was greater. Several persons succeeded in leaping from the car and among them was HARRY H. HEISE, Chief Burgess of Columbia. He sprang off a couple of hundred yards away from the scene of the final catastrophe, and was afterwards found dead, with his neck broken, he having landed against a fence post. Onward sped the car from this point, gaining momentum constantly.
Where the Car Left the Rails.
Finally, just before it reached the toll gate of the Columbia and Marietta turnpike, where stood Gatekeeper Christ, who had been attracted from the house by the thundering of the running car, the latter left the rails, ran a few yards on the cross-ties, and then swerved from the track, passing diagonally across the turnpike, snapping off one of the heavy toll-gate posts in its course. At this point it turned over upon its left side, and, almost incredible as it may seem, the car then slid along on its side, for seventy-five feet, when it struck a tree and heavy trolley pole, keeled bottom upwards and then shot over a fifteen foot embankment, at the foot of which runs a little stream coming from Loekard's Hollow. The car did not get into the water, but lay on the slope of the bank, a wreck. Worse that a wreck, in fact, for much of it was absolutely reduced to kindling wood.
The very position of the car threw all of the passengers towards the front end, and as the final crash occurred a shriek of pain and terror went up that is described as appalling.
A Fearful Scene.
Before the end of the terrible ride came the lights had been extinguished in the car and the shrieking crowd was left in darkness. When the car went over the bank of the stream it was so dark, by reason of the clouds, that nobody could see to do anything at first. Those who were not too badly injured to move struggled out of the press in the car as best they could, and these then gave such assistance as was possible to those less fortunate than themselves. The accident occurred at the end of a compound curve, and along this a number of persons lay who had risked their lives by a jump rather that take the chance of what they expected to follow. Brief as was the time that ensued from the moment it was found that the car was running away to the final crash, those on board suffered an age of agony, in fearful expectation of the inevitable.
JAY STRINE and IRWIN SHOLL, passengers, though among the slightly injured, made their way to Columbia with their fearful tale, and soon the town was ablaze with excitement and thousands were hurrying to the scene of the disaster, which is just beyond the northwest limits of the borough.
Taking Out the Victims.
Captain M. H. Smith soon formed a corps of assistants, and with improvised hospital appliances, and furniture vans instead of ambulances, repaired to the scene of the accident. The scene under the glare of the lanterns was sickening, and even the strongest men became weak through horror. All about lay dead and injured men and women, many looking ghastly under the glare of the lights, their faces covered with blood, and all who could appealing for aid. Some to their misery begged to be dispatched at once, that their sufferings might end. To take the dead and injured from under the wrecked car was no easy task, but willing hands were there in abundance, and in less than an hour the dead were removed to undertaking establishments and the badly injured to the Columbia Hospital. There two of the injured died before morning.
Scene at the Hospital.
The painful scenes at the wreck were enacted again at the hospital, where the full corps of physicians were reinforced by all of the physicians of the borough, and later by Drs. D. H. Shenk and M. L. Herr, of Lancaster. The Woman's Auxiliary of the hospital and many citizens also rendered valuable assistance. The hospital was fairly besieged by the anxious relatives and friends of people who had gone to the Park during the afternoon, they being eager to learn whether those they were interested in were among the dead or the injured. Painful, indeed, were the meetings between those who found their relatives and friends they were searching for, yet hoped would not be found among the victims, and the sufferers themselves.
How They Met Death.
While it is reasonable to believe that Burgess HEISE leaped from the car and was killed, it is not improbable that he may have been thrown from the car platform by a sudden lurch of the runaway car.
Conductor MARTIN HOBONADEL and Motorman WILBER GREEN, extra car-men, made a search along the track to see whether anybody was hurt, and they found the lifeless body of Burgess HEISE.