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Terrible auto accident — 1919

September 17, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise carried an all-caps, 72-point headline across the top of Page 1 on Thursday, Aug. 14, 1919, which read, "Accident kills three!"

Bad car crashes did not start with the high-speed autos of today traveling on superhighways but occurred all too often back in the 1920s and '30s on winding, narrow roads with some big cars powered by eight-cylinder engines. Single-car accidents are the toughest to handle by the survivors of those killed because it appears that driver error caused the crash.

The following excerpts are from that 1919 copy of the Enterprise:

Article Photos

This 1920 Hudson with a straight 6 engine would be similar to the one described in the accident story.
(Photo provided)

"In an automobile accident near AuSable Forks at midnight last night, Edward Johnson, Paschal Loritson and Miss Mary Mitchell of Saranac Lake, were instantly killed and Miss Emma Mitchell of Saranac Lake, was terribly injured and will probably die.

"The accident occurred when a new Hudson car, driven by Johnson, left the road on an embankment, struck a tree and overturned, about half a mile this side of AuSable Forks.

"The party left Saranac Lake last evening to go to Keeseville where the mother of the two girls lives. They left Keeseville shortly after ten o'clock on the return trip, and stopped at a restaurant at AuSable Forks. They left AuSable Forks at 11:30."


Car horn alerts passing driver

"Shortly afterward, Ralph Russell of Lake Placid, driving a car containing his mother and other relatives, including several children, was driving homeward when his attention was attracted by the sound of an automobile horn, blowing constantly he stopped, and turning his searchlight (many old cars came equipped with we now call a spotlight) down the bank, saw a car overturned.

"Russell immediately turned back to AuSable Forks for help and to leave his passengers, and secured a party of men from a restaurant there who returned with him to the scene of the accident.

"Search disclosed the fact that Johnson had been thrown partly through the windshield of his car, and was beneath it dead. The three other passengers were thrown clear of the car and were lying on the ground. Of these Paschal Loritson and Miss Mary Mitchell were dead, and Miss Emma Mitchell was living, though unconscious."


Background on the victims

Miss Mary Mitchell was apparently about 21 years old and was employed at the St. Regis Hotel as a waitress. Her sister Emma was probably about three years older and was employed as a housekeeper for Dr. C.W. Norton of 22 Catherine St. Their mother was Mrs. Mary Mitchell of Keeseville.

Johnson was a plumber, employed by Walton & Tousley, and was the son of Mr. and Mrs. George E. Johnson of Marshall Street. Loritson was born in Wadhams, but after his father died a few years earlier he had moved in with his aunt, Mrs. Rose Scriver of 9 Bloomingdale Ave. He was employed by W.C. Leonard & Co.


Comments about the accident

"All sorts of reports concerning the accident were current about Saranac Lake all day. The death of Emma Mitchell in the hospital was reported, apparently on authentic information, a dozen times during the forenoon."


"It was the opinion of those who examined the car that it must have been going at a high rate of speed at the time of the accident. The button controlling the horn on Hudson cars is in the center of the steering wheel, and the jamming of this when the car overturned kept the horn blowing and gave notice of the accident.


"There is a wide angle turn in the road where the accident occurred, and drivers familiar with the road said today that a car going as fast as 45 miles an hour ought to be able to take it without skidding. Johnson's car apparently went straight ahead, striking the last post of the guard-rail fence at the embankment and carrying away a portion of the fence. Once off the road, the car struck a rock which threw it sidewise into a tree."

(It appears from the story that one girl was in the front seat with Johnson and the other in the rear seat with Loritson.)



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