Collision at Fillmore and Sutter - an 1897 Newspaper Article from the San Francisco Chronicle
Collected by Joe Thompson

This article, from the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, December 12, 1897, describes an accident between a Fillmore Street electric car and a Sutter Street cable car.

accident headline
accident image
The headline and image from an article in the 12-December-1897 San Francisco Chronicle.

From the San Francisco Chronicle / Sunday, December 12, 1897. Page 1.


A Serious Accident at
Fillmore and Sutter
One Conductor and Three
Passengers Badly
The Cable Car Smashed to Pieces
by the Electric Motor and
Lifted Bodily From
the Tracks.

A collision last evening between an electric car of the Fillmore-street system and a cable car of the Sutter-street line at the corner of Sutter and Fillmore streets resulted in the almost total demolition of the cable car and the serious injury of three of its passengers.

A little after 7:30 o'clock Sutter-street car No. 60, Conductor Theodore Peterson and Gripman Albert Eckman in charge, was running down town at a moderate speed across the intersection of the Fillmore-street rails. The passenger car had passed about half way over when car No. 704 of the Fillmore electric line, Motorman George Reed and Conductor M. J. Merrifield came down the grade from Bush street at a terrific rate and plunged headlong into it. The Sutter-street car was struck in the middle, the whole side above the wheels being smashed by the impact, which threw it and the dummy clear off the track close to the culvert on the south side of Sutter street.

There were four passengers on the cable car. Miss Johanna Dillon of 2826 California street; Mrs. Tobin, corner California and Fillmore streets; Isaac Gellert, Jr. of 2112 Sutter street and a man wose name could not be learned. Only one of these, Miss Dillon, was seated inside the car. Conductor Peterson was thrown violently from the rear platform, sustaining serious injuries. Miss Dillon was knocked senseless and received a gash on the forehead, Miss Cave, a bystander, was badly cut about the head by a fall on the cobblestones and Isaac Gellert suffered contusions of the head and had his leg and ankle seriously sprained. The other passengers escaped uninjured.

The Fillmore-street car had thirteen passengers, but beyond a few small cuts from falling glass from the windows, which were all shattered, none of them was hurt.

The great weight of the electric car bent the cable car into a half circle, twisting its steel and iron framework into all sorts of curves and cutting a great hole along its side.

The blowing out of the fuse of of the electric car with a report like a cannon shot and the crash of the woodwork brought a large crowd to the spot in a few minutes, and it was all that the district patrolmen could do to keep the street clear and make way for the wounded people, all of whom were taken to their homes as quickly as possible.

The excitement of the scene was heightened by the arrival of several patrol wagons, which had been sent on the run when the first report was telephoned that several people had been killed.

Several persons who witnessed the accident declare that Motorman Reid (sic - JT) of the electric car had lost all control of his brakes, and that, though he saw the danger several yards from the spot where the collision occured, he found it impossible to check the rush of his car, which had been gathering speed all the way down the grade. The fog and the drizzling rain that had been falling for some hours made the tracks very slippery.

Gripman Eckman of the cable car claims that his position on the crossing undoubtedly gave him the right of way and declares also that the bell of the Fillmore-street car was not rung until it was right on top of him. In this statement he is supported by the testimony of his conductor and half a dozen pedestrians. The men in charge of the Fillmore-street car were badly rattled after the accident and would make no coherent statement about their share in it.

Theodore Peterson, the conductor of car 60 of the Sutter-street line, was knocked senseless and was taken in a patrol wagon to the O'Farrell-street police station. He was at once sent from there to home at 2910 Bush street.

Peterson, when seen at his home last night, said: "I did not hear the bell of the Fillmore-street car. She was within three feet of us when I first saw her. I was standing on the rear platform when the collision took place and was thrown on my head. I must been unconscious for some time. I had no time to jump. The Fillmore-street car struck about the middle of the passenger car. I had four or five passengers with me at the time and I think of these, four were on the dummy and one was inside the big car at the rear end. If the rear car had been crowded, the accident would have been a great deal more serious. Before we arrived at the crossing, we had slackened up speed, but the electric car was coming down the hill at a tremendous rate. If the Fillmore-street motorman had rung his bell there would never have been any accident. The gripman on our car is an experienced and safe man. It certainly was not his fault that the collision occured."

Peterson is suffering from severe contusions of the left hip and thigh, his left wrist is badly sprained and both forearms are black with bruises.

The working of both the Fillmore and Sutter systems was seriously interfered with for some hours after the accident and passengers on east and south bound cars had to make frequent transfers to reach their destinations. The tracks were not cleared for some time after the collision.

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Last updated 01-July-2022