that heated the small station room, Roy poured himself another cup of hot coffee to stave off the
cold and sat down in an empty chair near the stove. He smiled as he listened to the ongoing --
and very passionate -- conversation about the previous Saturday's Illinois/Penn game, where
Illinois team captain, "Red" Grange, ran the ball for a 55-yard touchdown in the first quarter,
signalling the team's dominance that culminated in a 24-2 victory. Yes, it was a mighty fine game,
they all agreed.
After he finished his coffee, Roy knew it was time to get going, and he and his conductor,
John Purcell, left the cozy station and their still-chatting friends and headed outside to the
streetcar that was waiting for them. They boarded the 29-passenger, #8 car that he would be
piloting that day and inspected it, making sure that all of the gears worked properly and that it
was clean and presentable for the day's riders.
By 7:30, the streetcar was ready to go. As the man in charge, John was responsible for
maintaining order on the train, helping passengers, and receiving instructions from the train
dispatcher and communicating them to the motorman, Roy. Meanwhile, Roy did the actual driving
and sometimes took tickets if several passengers were waiting to enter the car. Roy and John
worked together often and made an efficient, friendly team, and, even though they got a late start
on this day due to the thick fog, they looked forward to an unremarkable shift of picking up and
delivering riders to their destinations.
Roy and John pulled out of the station and headed south. As the morning progressed and the
dense fog began to lift, passengers piled onto the streetcar for the short commute from suburban
Granite City south to the larger metropolis of St. Louis. Drop off, pick up, drop off, pick up, clang,
clang, clang. I imagine, that, as Roy drove the streetcar along this very familiar route, his mind
wandered a bit, and he began to think about the perfect gift to give Nora for their 17th wedding
anniversary, only a few weeks away. She was such a wonderful wife and made their home a
happy and peaceful one. Of course, when they married at 21, they thought they would have a
houseful of little Roys and Noras running about in no timie, but that miracle of life never
happened for them. The first few years of trying and failing to conceive were heartbreaking, but
the couple gradually accepted their fate and learned to enjoy their quiet life together. Yes, they
were a happy and contented pair, and Roy was very grateful for such a good life.
At the end of their run at the Ends Bridge terminal in St. Louis, the remaining passengers emptied
the car, and Roy and John jumped out and worked together to turn the now-empty #8 around.
Then, they leaned against the back of the #8 and shared a smoke while chatting about Saturday
night's meeting at the lodge. Roy was in line to become Worshipful Master next year and was
excited to have the support of so many friends and fellow Masons, including John.
Break over, the two men climbed back aboard the empty #8 and headed northbound back toward
Alton. On the way, they passed back through Granite City, which sits in a wide, flat area known as
the American Bottom. Here, the fog suddenly became thick once again. The #8, which was
running 23 minutes behind schedule due to the fog earlier that morning, was going at full speed to
make up time. While Roy concentrated on driving, the Alton train dispatcher contacted John and
informed him that he and Roy would "meet" another streetcar in Mitchell, two towns north of
Granite City. A meeting occurred when two streetcars approached from different directions on the
same track, and one would move to a side lane while the other passed. In this case, the #8 car
would pass, and the other car, #5, would pull over to the side.
The #8 streetcar rolled through Granite City, then, at 9:30, through the next town to the north,
Nameoki, as it headed at 25 miles an hour toward the “meet” in Mitchell with a half-filled car of
post-rush hour passengers. Just north of Nameoki, the fog suddenly became so thick that Roy and
John could barely see the track in front of them. John walked to the front of the car to remind Roy
about the “meet,” which Roy acknowledged as he intently focused on the track before him. As
John turned and made his way back to his position in the rear of the streetcar, he heard Roy
suddenly apply the brake, causing it to let out a defiant scream of protest. Before he could register
what was happening, the 13,000-pound car slammed head on into car #5, which was also going at
near-full speed. Without any type of restraints to protect them, bodies flew wildly in all directions in
both cars and slammed full force into wooden seats, hard floors, and shattering windows as the
cars came to a brutal stop on the tracks.
Suddenly, total ... deafening ... silence.
The sound of the two colliding cars was heard throughout Nameoki, back almost a mile on the
track, and soon, the townspeople and passersby happened upon the horrifying scene of the two
cars grotesquely bent around and into each other to form a deathlock of unrecognizable
The motorman of car #5, Henry Roeder, died at the scene. One witness to the accident said that,
just before the two cars collided, Henry leaned forward and peered out the front window to get a
better view of the track through the soupy fog. Too late, he spotted Roy’s car in his path. Before
he could move, the two trains collided, and poor Henry died where he stood, peering into what
was left of #8, until his body was carefully removed from the car and taken to the Granite City
Henry’s conductor, John Scarritt, fractured his skull in the impact and was taken to St. Elizabeth’s
Hospital in Granite City, where he died four days later from his injuries. Roy’s conductor, John
Purcell, sustained a severe back injury, but he recovered and was able to give evidence during
the inquest a few days after the fatal accident.
As for Roy, like Henry on the other car, he received the brunt of the impact of the six-ton, #5 car
slamming through his thin-skinned driver's windshield and front. Although, miraculously, he
survived the initial impact, the twisting metal of #5 sheared off both of his legs before the now-
fused cars came to their violent stop. In the silence that followed, I imagine him laying on the floor,
barely conscious, his life gushing out onto the cold, fogged-over ground beneath the mangled
wreck. As passengers began moving around and onlookers boarded the cars to assist them,
Roy’s mind came back to reality. He lay on the floor, his uniform, which had been so caringly
pressed by Nora the evening before, saturated with his own blood. He thought of his
beloved wife, of their wonderful 17 years together and the gift he would never be able to give
her for their anniversary.
Soon, ambulances were on the scene and taking the most seriously injured victims,
including Roy, to St. Elizabeth’s, while city buses were summoned to deliver the less severe
casualties to the overburdened facility. There’s a newspaper report of a female relative of one of
the more seriously injured victims entering the hospital and weeping “as though her heart was
breaking. Her sobs could be heard all over the first floor even after she had been taken to the
ward where the relative had been placed.” Maybe this grieving witness to such horror was Nora....
Roy’s life came to an end at 3:40 that gray and foggy afternoon. Within the next day or two, his
seven siblings and their families arrived from California, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Florida to
Granite City to honor their beloved brother and to console his devastated wife. I have photos of
the family during this traumatic time; they are huddled together outside, sadly smiling for the
camera, embracing each other tightly.
At the coroner’s inquest, it was determined that Henry Roeder mistook another streetcar, which
was out of service and parked completely off the track, for #8, and he disregarded orders to stop
on the side lane at Mitchell because he thought #8 had stopped instead. As for the passengers of
the streetcars, 20 were seriously injured, including the Rev. R.F. Fisher, an African-American
pastor from E. St. Louis, who received lacerations and a skull fracture; C.M. Surgcott, who
sustained a fractured vertebrae of the left chest wall; and Mildred Swick, who suffered a severe
contusion to the frontal region of the skull and a contusion of soft tissue of the right shoulder.
Within a year of this disaster, the Alton, Granite, & St. Louis Traction Company, which had never
done very well financially, was taken over by the Alton Railway Company. The company changed
hands a few more times over the years before buses and cars dominated the area and finally
made streetcar service between Alton and St. Louis obsolete. The line ceased operations
altogether in 1936.
As for Nora, I don’t know what happened to her after Roy’s death. There are many Nora Griffins
around in the years after his demise, but I could find no record of Nora in Granite City after 1925.
Maybe she couldn’t handle the thought of remaining there with the sweet ghosts of her and Roy’s
past and left town to move in with a sister or brother in some far-off state.
I see her in her later years, hair now completely gray and a permanent, bittersweet sadness in
her once-lively eyes. She is sitting in someone else’s cheery kitchen and sipping a quiet,
pre-dawn cup of coffee ... and, of course, always, wishing for Roy.
Contributed by Lynne Rostochil
Sources: Granite City Press Record, 11/3/1925, 11/6/1925
Granite City Post, 11/2/1925, 11/5/1925
Alton Evening Telegraph, 11/2/1925, 11/3/1925, 11/5/1925
A little imagination
UPDATE 8/10 -- I found out more about Nora. She did remarry a couple of years after Roy's
death, to another conductor and a friend of Roy's named Hank Hankins. They were married for
over 30 years, but when Nora died, she chose to be buried next to Roy,
her first and only true love.