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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Accident at Job's Creek- Additional Evidence

Review of incident:

We have been discussing the incident of a long ago accident at Job's Creek here at the Blog. It began with a photo (See photo below and Friday, January 2, 2009 Blog entry) believed to have been taken in the early 1920's. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to identify the make and year of the cars involved, so pin pointing a date has proven difficult. I wish someone out there could help us with the years of the cars.

Photo of an accident at the Job's Creek bridge from an old Atkinson family photo album. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Atkinson Richmond.)

Bob Mathis saw the photo and related a story (Discussed in our January 3, 2009 Blog entry and reprinted below), told to him by his father, Walter Mathis. Walter remembered a notable accident on the Job's Creek bridge when he was a young boy. Bob didn't know the date of his father's recollection, only offering Walter's birth date of 1908 and the fact that Walter said he was a young boy at the time as a benchmark for estimating when the accident may have taken place. 

A story I heard my Dad (Walter Mathis) tell several times. When he was a young boy, probably around 1920, there was an accident on the Jobs Creek Bridge. S4 was all dirt, rough and narrow (as you can see from the picture) at that time. Sometimes several cars would come out of New York and race to Atlantic city. This time, two came up on the Jobs Creek Bridge and one tried to pass the other. One hit the bridge and flipped over into the creek. There were 6 or 7 people in the car and all died in the crash or drowned. They pulled them out of the creek and took them up to the Hotel (New Gretna House), where they laid them out on the porch side by side. A lot of people came down and looked at them. He said they were young actors and actresses from New York.

Reflections and additional evidence:

There is no proof that the photo from the Atkinson photo album and the incident that Walter remembered go together, as the dates of both are unknown. There appears to be little physical damage to the car hanging off the bridge which tends to indicate that the accident in which it was involved was more minor than the recollections of Walter. However, there were two cars involved in the accident and, perhaps, it was the other that suffered the most serious damage.

When I first read Bob Mathis' statement regarding his father's boyhood recollections, I wondered how much of Walter's story may have gotten embellished over the years. If the accident actually happened as Walter remembered, I should be able to find some newspaper report on the incident. It would have been big news.

I began a search on the internet for an newspaper account of the accident described by Walter Mathis. I was able to find the following news account in the August 9, 1916 edition of the New Jersey Mirror (see below). It generally matches up with Walter's story, except for the number of casualties (2 as opposed to 6 or 7) and the newspaper account makes no mention of the bodies being laid out at the New Gretna House. These discrepancies can be easily reconciled, as a young boy's memories about the number of casualties may have become exaggerated over the years, and the newspaper may have omitted the laying out of the bodies at the New Gretna House. Comparing the two stories, I believe they are of the same incidence. Also, Walter would have been 8 years old at the time of the 1916 accident which fits the time frame of his being a "young boy" at the time of the accident.

Two Killed in Auto Accident

An automobile accident at Job's Bridge, near New Gretna, Burlington county, late Saturday night resulted in two women being killed and another badly hurt. The bodies of Mrs. Ethel Long Browning, of Columbus, Ohio, and Miss Agnes Creamer, of Boston, victims of the disaster, were taken to an undertaker's establishment in Tuckerton. Coroner Gaskill, of Mount Holly, will hold an inquest at New Gretna tomorrow. James Deaton, chauffeur of the car, owned by J. M. Schlesinger, of New York, which ran into the car of Joseph E. Howard, the song composer, causing the fatality and the serious injury of Mrs. Howard, an actress, is being held in the county jail here. He claims that the crash was due to his failure to see the portion of the bridge abutment above the narrow roadway at that point. He says that both machines were running at a lively clip, and just before the bridge was reached along the dusty road he signaled to the car ahead that he wanted to pass. When there appeared to be room he attempted to go by, and struck the bridge abutment wall. This tore off a front wheel, and when his machine was beyond control it crashed into the Howard car. The terrific force of the collision, he says, caused the two unfortunate women to be thrown from their respective cars. Deaton maintains that there would not have been an accident had it not been that the dust obstructed his view of the bridge. In the two cars were ten persons who were on their way from New York to Atlantic City. In the first car, besides the chauffeur, were Mr. and Mrs. Joseph E. Howard, of New York, vaudeville performers on their way to fill an engagement at Atlantic City, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Browning. This car was a small, four-seated touring car. The rear car, a seven-passenger machine, contained the remainder of the party, including Miss Creamer. The smaller auto was leading at the bridge, when the larger car struck it. Mrs. Browning, who was in the front seat of the smaller car, was thrown through the windshield, while Miss Creamer was hurled past the leading car to the front of the debris which remained piled up against the stone bridge abutments. The point at which the crash occurred would give plenty of room for the automobiles to have passed side by side if they had been proceeding more slowly, the authorities said. The highway at that point is level and wide. The bridge crosses over a small creek at grade level without rising or presenting difficulties to the ordinary motorist. The road is traversed by hundreds of motor cars daily.

New Jersey Mirror - August 9, 1916

Assuming that Walter Mathis' account and the N.J. Mirror article are of the same incident, we now have a date of the accident related by Walter Mathis - August, 1916. This may help us in determining whether or not the photo is also of the same incident. That gets us back to the importance of determining the age of the cars in the photo. Where are all our knowledgeable car buffs out there?

I would be interested in hearing from you regarding your thoughts about my deductions. I would like to be able to finally say  .    .    .    Case Closed!

Pete S

PS- A good way to review the situation at Job's Creek is to type "Job's Creek" into the search box at the top left of the Blog and click on the SEARCH BLOG button. All of the Job's Creek Blog entries will be presented for you to review.

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