Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Little Humor: Odd Accidents from the Past

Safety — on the job, in the home, on the highways — is serious business with the National Safety Council, but they’re not without a sense of humor. For decades at the end of each year, the organization published a collection of unusual accidents, once called Freak Squeakers, that could have been catastrophic, but by odd circumstance ended with relatively minor injuries, or none at all. From my collection of odds and ends, here are a few from the Adirondack region that fit the category, followed by a few more that the NSC shared more than 60 years ago.

Compared to single-car and two-car accidents, crashes involving four vehicles are relatively rare.  The odds of a four-car accident then were even lower back in 1930, since far fewer cars were on the road. But on a slippery hill leading into Ogdensburg, it happened with cars that were all occupied by tourists. While that in itself might seem unusual, an odd coincidence about the crash stood out: despite Ford’s dominance in the number of vehicles on the road, the cars involved represented four companies — Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, and Studebaker. Three of them were among the four leaders in vehicle production, but Cadillac was not even in the top ten — and yet they all came together in the Ogdensburg accident.

In October 1939, Victoria LaFlamme of Tupper Lake stopped her car at 45 Riverside Drive in Saranac Lake and prepared to turn. To allow an oncoming car to pass safely, she shifted into reverse and accelerated to back up a bit — except that she actually had shifted into low. Instead of going backward, the car lurched forward, jumped the curb, shot down the bank, and landed in the lake. Two nearby deliverymen waded into the water and brought LaFlamme and her female passenger, Jessie Haile, to shore. The accident happened in the morning — shortly after Victoria had taken her driving test.

At Champlain in 1949, an auction at the Marshall Maynard farm included “a matched pair of real good honest horses” (we all know lyin’ horses are the worst), and sixteen cows, all of them “clean” and some of them “fresh” (we all know that clean and fresh cows are the best). For any farmers out there, relax … I know fresh doesn’t mean the cows were sassy, but at least one of them was feeling pretty sassy, if not downright ornery. When men scrambled to round up several bovines that had run off, one bossy chased local farmer Roland St. John up a tree. A standoff ensued, and when the bull-headed cow wouldn’t listen to reason, a local farm employee was authorized to shoot at it with a shotgun from a safe distance, about 150 feet away. He fired, and the reaction was immediate — from St. John, not the cow. Parts of the shot deflected upward from the animal’s horns and struck him in the leg. The shooter claimed no one was more surprised than he was, but St. John begged to differ. He recovered after a brief hospital stay.

On the evening of June 26, 1951, the junior prom at Fort Covington was in full swing when the lights suddenly “went out all over town,” according to the Fort Covington Sun. The festivities finally resumed when “a gasoline light” was called into service. It was later learned that a deer had walked out in front of a car, which hit the animal and then a light pole, snapping it off, cutting power to the area, and leaving dancers in the dark. The driver was 18-year-old Wayne Fleury of Westville, who, of course, was on his way to the prom.

And now a few chuckles from elsewhere as reported by the NSC in December 1956:

“The National Safety Council’s roundup of freak accidents in 1956 shows it’s not always what happens to you that counts, but how you come out of it. Take Mrs. Loretta Lewis of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her car veered off a highway, hurdled down a fifty-foot embankment, and landed on railroad tracks — in front of an approaching train. The roaring locomotive sideswiped the wreckage and barreled on. Mrs. Lewis lived through this double jeopardy; in fact, she suffered only a broken arm and a few bruises.

“Another lucky one, considering the circumstances, was Mrs. Pauline Ellison. Her auto crashed into a truck on an icy highway near Richmond, Indiana, and she was thrown from the car. But she landed on her briefcase and skidded cozily and securely for 200 feet.

“Eugene Cromwell of Milwaukee might have permanently considered himself among the lucky. His car swerved off the highway and got bashed up, but he didn’t suffer a scratch. But when he stepped out to survey the damage, he fell into a 50-foot limestone quarry and broke his arm.

“And who would see a danger signal in the simple act of sawing off a tree limb. Benjamin Morris of Kansas City got up from bed and did it in the middle of the night. The limb, scratching against his home in the wind, annoyed him. A few minutes later, Mr. Morris was back in bed again — in a hospital. He was on the wrong end of the limb when he did the sawing.

“Mrs. Mary Hastings Bradley, author and big game hunter, came through six African safaris without a scratch. But she tripped over a lion’s head in the trophy room of her Chicago home and broke her arm.

“Lady Luck in dishing out her dirtiest digs, sometimes was thoughtful and considerate. Like in the case of Earl Heffley of Chicago. He cut himself while opening a Christmas package he received in the mail. The package contained a first aid kit.

“Not so, however, with farmer Paul Thomas of Las Vegas. He was unlucky enough to come to grips with a wise but cantankerous gopher. When Mr. Thomas shoved a lighted concussion bomb down into the pestering gopher’s hole, the gopher shoved it right back at him. Mr. Thomas gave the sputtering object a frantic heave. It exploded near his big barn and burned twelve tons of hay.”

Hmmm … about that last one. Had the producers of Caddyshack seen the NSC report?

Photos: Headline, Ogdensburg Advance News, 1944; Headline, Courier Freeman, 1930; Headline, Tupper Lake Free Press, 1939; Headline, Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post, 1956

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

2 Responses

  1. Harv Sibley says:

    Thanks…. quite humorous

  2. Beth Rowland says:

    Those are so funny—if it isn’t to awful to laugh at another’s misfortune….

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