May 25, 1950 – Chicago Green Hornet disaster kills 33

Tragedy struck the streets of Chicago on this day in 1950 when 33 people died in one of the deadliest public transportation disasters in US history to date. It occurred when a Chicago Transit Authority “Green Hornet” trolley smashed into a truck, resulting in the loss of life and more than 30 injured. Green Hornet driver Paul Manning was at the helm when he either ignored or did not see a flagman who was diverting trolleys away from a flooded underpass which made the tracks impassable due to heavy rains the night before. 

Trolleys moving southbound along 63rd street were being detoured to a turnaround track to avoid the flood. Manning was piloting his Green Hornet, one of the newest in the fleet, at a dangerously fast 35 mph when he blew by the flagman. Seconds later the trolley was thrown from its straight course to the diversion track, which guided the train directly into oncoming traffic. As the trolley went around the bend passengers were thrown from their seats and a moment later ran head on into a tanker truck with 8,000 gallons of fuel aboard. The collision sent fireballs as high as three stories into the sky and enveloped the neighborhood. Nearby buildings and cars suffered major damage, but luckily nobody in the street obtained serious injuries. Those aboard the train were less fortunate.

The emergency exits on the trolleys proved insufficient. Only one door could be opened from the inside following the wreck, which a 14 year old girl managed to pry open before it fused closed. Her efforts allowed 30 people to crawl from the wreckage, all with severe burns. The windows all had metal bars across them, making them impossible to exit out of and the other doors were designed to open from the outside only or by a switch at the driver’s control. Both the driver of the trolley and the fuel truck, Mel Wilson, died in the collision, making the investigation difficult to conclude as to why Manning missed the flagman’s signal. Soon after the accident, Chicago officials began to replace streetcars with buses. The last run of Green Hornets occurred on June 21, 1958.

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