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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CENTRAL VIADUCT STREETCAR ACCIDENT

CENTRAL VIADUCT STREETCAR ACCIDENT

The CENTRAL VIADUCT STREETCAR ACCIDENT occurred on the dark, foggy night of 16 November 1895. CLEVELAND CITY RAILWAY CO. streetcar No. 642, on the Cedar-Jennings route, plunged through the open draw of the Central Viaduct into the CUYAHOGA RIVER, over 100 feet below. The mishap resulted in 17 deaths, making it the worst traction accident in the United States at that time and the worst such disaster in Cleveland's history. It was the second trip that evening for motorman Augustus Rogers and conductor Edward Hoffman. There were 21 people aboard, many of them women and children who had boarded the car downtown. Visibility was poor as the car approached the derailer switch. Hoffman went ahead, threw the switch, and motioned the car forward, jumping aboard the rear platform as the car passed. Unknown to either man, the draw was open, permitting the passage of a tug towing two vessels, and the power cutoff had not operated for some time.

Peering through the mist, Rogers thought he saw that the draw was open over the tracks, but since there was still current, he dismissed the idea. As he increased the throttle, the mist cleared, revealing the open draw. Slamming the transmission into reverse, Rogers and three passengers leaped to safety. Crashing through the warning fence, the streetcar plunged downward, striking a support piling and rebounding into 18 feet of water. Only one passenger survived the plunge, Patrick Looney, and he spent the rest of his life as an invalid due to of the injuries he sustained.