Collision at Fillmore and Sutter - two 1897 Newspaper Articles from the San Francisco Examiner
Collected by Joe Thompson

The first article, from the San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, December 12, 1897, describes an accident between a Fillmore Street electric car and a Sutter Street cable car. The second article, from the San Francisco Examiner, Monday, December 13, 1897 offers a follow-up.

Theodore Figel was accused of murdering his employer, Isaac Hoffman. After a six-week trial, Figel was found innocent.

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

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


A Runaway Electric Car
Dashes Into a Cable Car.

Fillmore and Sutter Crossing
the Scene of the

The Wrecked Car Thrown From
the Track Over to the Sidewalk.


Isaac Gellert, Miss Deloe, Miss Cone,
Mrs. Tobin and Conductor Peterson
Were the Victims.

ISAAC GELLERT, 2112 Sutter street. Back sprained, left leg cut and bruised from the knee to the ankle, cuts on the hands and face and severe nervous shock.
MISS ANNIE DILLON, employed at 2826 California street, but taken to her brother's home at 163 Eleventh street. Left shoulder and left knee badly bruised and swollen, two cuts in the upper lip, forehead and hands cut with glass, and suffereing from a severe shock.
MISS B. CAVE, 2112 California street. Right shoulder severely wrenched and bruised, left cheek cut and both hands cut and scratched with glass.
MRS. L. TOBIN, corner California and Fillmore streets. Badly shaken up and cuts on hands and face.
Theodore Peterson, Conductor of the Sutter-street car. Right hip severely wrenched and bruises on the hands and about the head.

The five people named were injured last night a little before 8 o'clock by a Fillmore electric car crashing into a Sutter-street car at the corner of Fillmore streets. It was a miracle that nobody was killed on the Sutter-street car. Fortunately the latter car had but few passengers. There was no one on the dummy. The only passengers in the car were the gentleman and three ladies mentioned as injured.

The Fillmore electric car -- No. 761 -- struck the Sutter-street car -- No. 60 -- squarely in the middle of the left side as it was coming downtown. The Fillmore-street car was southbound at the time. It cut a hole in the side of the Sutter-street car big enough for a man to crawl through. The entire left side of the car, just even with the seat on the inside, was broken by the force of the collision. Every window but one in the car was shattered.

The Sutter-street car was torn from its coupling with the dummy, pushed sidewise from the track and thrown fully fifteen feet over on to the curbstone in front of the grocery store at the southeast corner of Fillmore and Sutter. The electric car in striking head on sufferred less damage. But the front was stove in and three large windows were reduced to fragments.

Conductor Peterson was the first to realize the danger. Before he could do anything the cars were together and he was thrown from the rear platform into the street. When his car fell over against the curbstone the passengers were in a heap on the floor, with a rain of broken glass and splinters of wood falling on and around them. There were frantic cries and screams of pain and fright.

The crash of the collision was heard several blocks away. Police Sergeant Blank got to the scene just as several men and boys were helping the injured passengers out of the car onto the sidewalk. Blank rang in for the patrol wagon and a couple of hacks. While waiting for the hacks, Mrs. M. E. Wormuth of 1718 Fillmore street, near the scene of the accident, took Miss Dillon into her home. People living close by dyd the same for Miss Cave and Mrs. Tobin. Mr. Gellert lives only a block and a half from the scene of the collision, but was unable to get home until the hacks arrived.

Half an hour after the accident Sergeant Blank sent the injured passengers to their homes in jacks. He then took Conductor Peterson home in the patrol wagon.

The electric car had but few passengers, and none of them were hurt so far as could be ascertained. A man named Douglass, sitting in the front of the electric car, jumped to the street when he saw that a collision was inevitable. He slipped on the muddy pavement and ruined a suit of clothes.

None of the injured passengers were able to tell how the accident occurred or who was responsible for it. Superintendent Iddings of the Fillmore branch of the Market-street Company was not on duty last night. His assistant, when asked to explain the cause of the collision, remarked: "I have not been offficially informed by the conductor and motorman of the car that was an accident, so I don't know that there was a collision."

The Sutter-street people admit that the south-bound Fillmore cars have the right of way over both their east and west bound cars, but they say the cause of the accident was the fact that the electric car was unmanageable and was running away at the time of the it struck their cable car.

This view of the matter is borne out by what Conductor Peterson says and by what Henry Blum, an eye-witness of the accident, states.

It was very foggy in that part of the city last night. Coming south on Fillmore from Bush to Sutter there is a steep grade. The track last night was very slippery from the rain and mud. After crossing Bush and coming down the grade towards Sutter the fuse on the electric car burnt out with a flash, and down the hill the car went pellmell. The burnt fuse made it impossible for the motorman to check the car with the reverse current, and he had to try to stop the car with the hand brakes. He was so busy working the hand brakes that he failed to ring his bell as the car was dashing down to Sutter.

After the accident it was noticed that every electric car coming down the hill moved slowly and almost stopped at Sutter.

Conductor Peterson said that as his car approached Fillmore street it slowed up. No headlight of an electric car was seen through the fog, nor was a bell heard. His car then started across the Fillmore track. The next moment an electric car appeared in sight rushing down the hill. It was coming so fast, he said, that it was impossible for his car to get out of the way.

Henry Blum, who lives at the corner of Sutter and Webster streets, said:

"I was standing at Sutter and Fillmore, intending to take the electric car that ran into the Sutter-street car. It was very foggy. I saw a flash from the electric car as it was coming down the hill from Bush. The next moment the car plunged down the grade. It ran very fast, and certainly was unmanageable. No bell was rung. Why I don't know. Nor do I know what caused the flash, but I have been told it was due to the fuze burning out.

"If the electric car had not been running away I do not think there would have been a collision. The cable car would have had plenty of time to get out of the way but for the headlong speed of the other car."

Dr. Dorr, the Sutter-street Company's surgeon, said last night that Conductor Peterson was not dangerously injured, but would feel sore for several days. Dr. Frisbie, who is attending Isaac Gellert, saig he sustained a severe nervous shock. The extent of the his other injuries he would not be able to judge until to-day. Miss Dillon's brother said that her physician had decided that no bones were broken, but that her injuries would confine her to the house for a month or more. At the residence of Miss Cave and Mrs. Tobin it was given out that their injuries were very painful, but not of a serious nature.

Mr. Gellert is assistant bookkeeper for Hoffman, Alexander & Co. and is a witness in the Theodore Figel case.

article text
An article in the 13-December-1897 San Francisco Examiner.

From the San Francisco Examiner / Monday, December 13, 1897. Page 1.


Street-Car Collision Might Have Been
Avoided Had the Rules Been

The victims of the street-car collision Saturday night at Fillmore and Sutter Streets are all doing well, though it will be a week or two before Mr. Gellert will be able to be about. The conductor, Peters, expects to be able to go to work again in a week.

People who witnessed the collision are of the opinion that more care should be taken by the employees of both roads.

The collision might have been avoided if the gripman in charge of the cable car had not been in such a hurry to pass the crossing. It frequently happens that motormen on the Fillmore-street system lose control of their cars during rainy or foggy weather when descending the grade on Fillmore street, north of Sutter. The wheels will not revolve, but slide along the rails, and effrorts to check the speed of the car by the application of brakes are unsuccessful. The south-bound Fillmore-street cars have the right of way. Gripman Eckmann, who was in charge of the Sutter-street car that was struck by the Fillmore-street car, was aware of this rule, but took the chances in trying to pass the crossing, and the collision resulted.

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