Popular Overcoats Doomed Victims in Old Boston Tragedy

Trolley plunge into water in 1916 killed 46
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2016 10:03 AM CDT
Updated Nov 5, 2016 4:09 PM CDT
Forgotten Trolley Tragedy Rocked Boston 50 Years Ago
Photo of a Boston trolley car in the late 19th century.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – It is the tragedy that "Boston completely forgot," declares a fascinating account in the Boston Globe. The story by Eric Moskowitz recounts an accident almost exactly 100 years ago—on Nov. 7, 1916, election night—in which a trolley car crammed with about 70 people plunged over an embankment into the water, the driver realizing too late that a drawbridge had been raised. Those in the front of the car were able to see what was about to happen and jump to safety, and some were saved in the water, but 46 people drowned. All were men except for 19-year-old stenographer Elsie Wood. Her gold bracelet was found on the trolley floor, but her body wasn't recovered until the following May.

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The story provides a look not just at the details of the accident but a snapshot of life in Boston in 1916. For example, one of the factors that doomed many of those who drowned was that they were wearing popular overcoats of the day—"$15 and up at Filene's"—that essentially acted as "leaden anchors, sopping up water." Tales of heroism also arose, including that of amateur boxer Nelson McFarlane, who pushed a female co-worker to safety before the plunge. He went into the water with the trolley, bobbed up, and pulled a drowning man to shore before reaching land and collapsing. He survived to run a Boston bar. Click for the full story, which includes details of the 20-something driver's exoneration in court. (Read more Longform stories.)

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