The Interurban Train Wreck of 1920

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The Interurban Train Wreck of 1920

i’m bridgette bacon i work for the city of louisville colorado at the lewisville historical museum and i’m making this video uh to tell you about what’s often called the interurban wreck of 1920. it was a collision of train cars that was a major event in denver history but it especially impacted the town of lewisville colorado this video is based on an article that i wrote for the summer 2020 issue of the museum’s quarterly publication the louisville historian you can find the pdf of this issue on the museum website and read more about the topic there on labor day in 1920 which was on september 6th two denver and inner urban trains crashed head-on near globeville just north of denver a single regularly scheduled car was headed from boulder to denver while a special excursion two-car train was headed from denver to el dorado springs the story has to do with not only the history of public transportation in the denver area but it also touches on some other themes because it took place on the holiday of labor day many of the passengers were looking for recreation the passengers on the northbound in urban cars headed to el dorado springs were looking forward to some special holiday activities scheduled for that day and many of the passengers on the southbound car going from boulder to denver by way of lewisville were going to a championship ball game in denver this isn’t primarily known as an accident that had to do with sports fans but that’s really what it was because the southbound car with these baseball fans heading to the game ended up with all of the 13 deaths from the collision the impact of the collision on the louisville community has not been widely known over the years but at the time it was noted in the newspaper coverage the denver rocky mountain news had an item soon after the collision that said referring to the town of louisville this little mining town is bowed down in sorrow nearly every home was affected by the inner urban collision of labor day the collision impacted louisville actually to an even greater extent than this early report from the rocky mountain news indicated seven not six of the thirteen people who died were from lewisville and according to later counts about 40 of the injured out of about 215 were louisville residents or their close relatives lewisville’s population in 1920 was about 1 800. i want to mention where i was able to find information one source was the colorado historic newspapers collection where there is free access to digitized newspapers from colorado and in fact the lewisville historical museum’s copies of the lewisville times weekly newspaper for september 9th and september 16th that are on the colorado historic newspapers collection website had a lot of information about the impact on louisville lewisville newspaper editor pearl conley wrote in the lewisville times on september 9th words are inadequate to express the appalling horror felt by the people here or to express the sympathy for the bereaved relatives of the dead she also wrote the news of the interurban wreck bringing with it the fatal news of the deaths and serious injuries to so many of the citizens of our town monday just at the noon hour was a stunning blow to the entire population here i also used which is subscription-based and which has digitized historic newspapers i especially used the denver newspapers on the site for this research is also subscription-based and gives access to digitized historic newspapers i realized in the course of my research that this accident was reported in dozens of newspapers all over the united states and the news of the collision was probably especially relevant to those cities that also had interurban railroad transportation systems i want to mention is a resource about those who died or were injured in the collision we last this book about uh the kite route was very helpful and has a lot of information about the history of the interurban railroad in denver and about this and other collisions that took place as you can see it’s called the kite route the story of the denver and inner urban railroad by william c jones and noel t holly the route followed a path that looked like a kite so it was called the kite route one could go from denver to boulder by either going through louisville or by going through marshall the section going to marshall also provided access to the resort town of el dorado springs as you can see on the cover image here before september 6 the denver and urban railroad was known for providing fast low-cost reliable

and comfortable electric-powered transportation between denver and boulder this image shows the inner urban in front of the old boulder county courthouse in boulder colorado service between denver and boulder reportedly began in 1908 soon trains were running every hour the company started in 1904 and it went into receivership and ended all routes in 1926. the reason for ending service was at least in part due to all the personal injury claims the company had to pay as a result of this 1920 accident because of this the accident is believed by some to have permanently altered the public transportation system in the denver metro area these photos show the resort town of el dorado springs which was the destination of the northbound cars that labor day in 1920 something neat about the top image is that it actually shows an inner urban car on the tracks i’ve circled it over on the left the week before labor day the denver rocky mountain news had promoted labor day entertainment that the american legion organized in el dorado springs for that day including boxing matches aquatic contests and athletic games plus genuine western stunts here’s the railroad depot by pine street in louisville where interurban passengers would catch the train or get off of it i want to show a few more pictures of what louisville looked like in around 1920 this photo shows main street looking north at the time when world war 1 ended in 1918 lewisville at that time was a coal mining town with a lot of residents who were immigrants and it it had already been through a lot in the decade before 1920. and i’ll explain why this image shows the acme mine which was one of several right in town or very close by the long strike of 1910 to 1914 was marked by violent conflicts with coal mine owners and the strikebreakers with whom i’m sorry whom they brought in as well as losses of income to the families of striking minors for eight months from 1914 to 1915 federal troops were stationed in the town sent by president woodrow wilson to keep the peace then in 1915 a street vendor shot and killed victor hellberg the town marshal he got away which robbed the family and community of justice and closure also prohibition started in colorado in 1916 four years before it would be adopted at the federal level for louis vulvas meant an end to its saloon businesses and another blow to the local economy world war one and the 1918 influenza pandemic resulted in losses of louisville servicemen in world war one and of many young residents due to the flu so the inner urban wreck of 1920 put an unwelcome cap on this turbulent decade for the town this is a photo of main street in louisville in around 1915 which was five years before the interurban collision i realized when i looked closely at this photo that it shows something about the culture of louisville during that time that ties in with the inner urban collision strong across the street is a banner that says baseball sunday we’ve also seen this in other photos of the town like a lot of colorado front range towns at the time louisville was crazy about baseball this photo from a few years prior to 1920 shows a louisville baseball team with some players who were on the southbound inner urban car i’ve circled william zarina or zarini who is one of seven lewisville residents who were killed in the accident john gerzelli and william buck lasalle are also in this photo and were injured in the wreck i want to tell you about the ball game that so many of these baseball fans were on their way to watch on september 6th the denver post newspaper put on an annual baseball tournament that lasted several days with 10 western clubs participating this item from the denver post on august 27th promoted the first game the lewisville community was following the sixth annual denver post baseball tournament closely because tony lasalle who was from louisville was the star shortstop for the rapid city south dakota team that was one of the teams in the tournament just about everyone in louisville would have known tony or a member of his family as it turned out tony lasalle’s rapid city team made it to the championship game to take place on labor day against the sydney nebraska team and this was going to be played at denver’s broadway park looking at the kite-shaped route we have one car leaving boulder making stops in louisville and other towns along the way and approaching denver newspaper accounts and the kite route book tell us that when the southbound car left boulder its 59 seats were not quite filled but when it left the railroad depot in downtown lewisville at around 11 a.m

it had picked up about 65 additional passengers and the car ended up carrying 130 passengers in total and as i mentioned there were 59 seats and then we also have a special excursion two-car train leaving denver to go to el dorado springs the accident happened quite close to denver looking at a map of denver i’ve highlighted where it happened in unincorporated adams county near the community of globeville the location is about 17 miles away from louisville it occurred on a curve at about 11 30 a.m with both sets of trains going about 50 miles an hour the curve in the track and the speed of each train meant there was no advance warning and so the motor men on both trains had only a few seconds to react this photo from the colorado railroad museum shows the aftermath of the head-on collision the southbound single car coming from louisville and boulder is on the right and the northbound double car is on the left in the 1970s and 1980s oral history interviews conducted for the lewisville public library now at the lewisville historical museum and for boulder’s carnegie library for local history captured the memories of some of the louisville passengers and their relatives and friends southbound passenger jim ferrari said in his 1977 interview when he was 79 years old quote our car was just packed like sardines he described how some of the men gave up their seats for women and moved to the front of the car which was a smoker section for men this placed relatively more men at the front of the southbound car survivors painted a picture of passengers standing in the aisles sitting on seat arms and squeezed into the front area with the motorman when the other train hit 11 men on the southbound car from boulder and louisville were killed almost instantly according to newspaper reports no one was killed on the northbound train this photo was taken either the same day as the collision or soon after the scene was chaotic and gruesome in the aftermath of the crash the denver post reported that it was a full 10 minutes before a passenger from the northbound car was able to get to a telephone to call for help newspaper accounts described ambulances police and fire wagons rushing to give aid and transport the injured according to the post nearby motorists also helped transport people to area hospitals this newspaper photo from the denver post shows men carrying away someone identified as an injured passenger the lewisville times editor pearl conley wrote of the chaos and confusion taking place in louisville as well she wrote quote almost every auto in the town was called into service to take people who had members of their family aboard the ill-fated car to the scene of the wreck of cars and humanity messages were received by the relatives in many instances as fast to this as the telephone connections could be made and telegrams could be sent the cars had to be disconnected from one another and removed from the tracks and this photo appears to document this operation many things are believed to have contributed to the accident including the southbound car being overcrowded and running behind schedule and the fact that most of the employees called in to handle the extra train to el dorado springs that day were inexperienced however when everything was examined the conclusion as default was that since the southbound train from boulder and louisville was on the regular schedule it had senior rights over the northbound cars headed for el dorado springs and that the motorman on the northbound train did not take care to avoid the collision by waiting for the southbound train the interstate commerce commission also weighed in a few months after the accident and concluded that the use of a block signal system instead of the manual timetable system would have prevented the accident the newspaper coverage especially in the denver papers was massive this front page of the denver rocky mountain news is from the next day and several of the articles relate to the interurban crash and i would just know that there would end up being 13 dead and more than 200 injured i want to tell about each of the 13 people who died in the crash all of them were men seven were from louisville many of them left wives and children whose lives were turned upside down unfortunately the lewisville historical museum does not have photos of all of them and were still seeking their photos jose joe cortez age 46 worked for the railroad and lived in louisville and he may have been on the train that day in his capacity as an employee but we don’t know for certain frank carvath was about age 45 he was a partner in a

main street lewisville business called carveth brothers in dalby his cousin frank dalby also died in the wreck and his cousin george dolphy was injured here you can see the carvith brothers and dolby store at 801 main street in louisville this is now the state mercantile building on the right are car frank karbeth’s four daughters and his widow mary this was taken by their house on jefferson avenue this is frank carvath’s cousin frank dalby age 41 who also died in the accident according to the lewisville times newspaper there is a double funeral for them at green mountain cemetery in boulder and a procession of 100 cars william will helberg 22 was the son of the town marshall whom a street vendor had killed five years earlier the photo on the right shows the funeral procession for his father going up main street in 1915 will worked as a coal miner to help support his mother and siblings his younger sister marie recalled in a 1977 interview how he said goodbye to his mother as she was canning pickles and then he ran to catch the inner urban so that he could watch the ball game in denver joseph joe carmacino lombardi was 17 and he had come to the u.s at the age of about five from italy with his family his father had died and his mother remarried he worked as a coal miner to help support his family william zarina or zarini age 21 was called beb or willie he was born in louisville and was part of a large italian-american family living at 824 lafarge avenue i’ve circled him in this family photo he worked as a coal miner and his brother peter was an injured passenger he’s he’s shown in the back row second from the left john or johnny brennan was about 45 and he held a variety of jobs including as a minor painter and lewisville police judge you can also see here the names of the six other men who were listed as having been killed in the accident along with their ages and cities of residence i’ve used newspaper lists to compile a list of the injured passengers who were connected with louisville along with some of their photos if anyone watching this has additions or corrections please let the museum know there were dozens more not from louisville who were injured in the collision and the museum would like to know about them too many of the injuries to passengers were severe and included crushed chests skull fractures broken bones and lacerations in the bottom photo on this slide the two men who are standing are mike fabrizio on the left and jim ferrari on the right and they were both injured in his interview jim ferrari described how the accident he said quote broke every rib on this left side busted my jaw shattered my nose and punctured a lung he recounted what the doctors at st joseph’s hospital told his wife della who was a passenger they told her you got anybody you want him to see or want to see him before midnight you better call them in because he’ll never make it the brother and father of tony lasalle who was the shortstop for the rapid city team they were on the southbound car his father michael was not injured but his brother louis was injured and he’s listed here peter zorini was injured and his brother william died in the accident in his oral history interview for the carnegie library in 1988 92 year old peter zorini said that he and his friends rode at the front of the southbound car with the motorman because there was no other room he described how he a good friend and the conductor all jumped when they realized what was happening the two others hit inner urban electrical poles alongside the tracks and died instantly but he survived his brother also on the train died the denver post tournaments championship ball game went on that day and tony lasalle’s team from rapid city beat the team from sydney nebraska with thousands of baseball fans watching here’s a close-up of tony lasalle from the previous screen showing his team after the win i think that’s something that makes the story of this accident so poignant is that we think about what it must have been like for tony lasalle to have lost so many friends in the accident and to know that they were his fans and coming to root for him to win we haven’t located any information indicating how or when he found out about the accident that day i want to get into the location of the collision a little bit more because things in that area are so changed now according to the kite route book the

accident happened at 55th and ogden just west of washington the general area where the inner urban cars collided is bordered by i-25 on the west the platte river and riverside cemetery on the east i-70 on the south and i-76 and i-270 on the north we think that the location is now private property on east 54th street there’s a private road on that property that still follows the curve of where the railroad tracks went the location is a few few hundred feet north of heron pond and heller open space i thought about whether there’s a message to the story and unfortunately i think it’s simply that sometimes terrible accidents happen it’s not unusual for a community to be disproportionately affected it could be a town or a company or school people somehow find a way to persevere and that’s what happened with louisville as a result of the 1920 inner urban train accident please let the lewisville historical museum know if you have information about the inner urban wreck or if you know of anyone on the train cars in the accident so that we can document as much information as we can you