Inspiration for posts on The Digs can come from a variety of places.
Sometimes current news coverage or a major anniversary triggers memories from a past story or photo.
Then there are times where we just pick a letter and start digging (pardon the pun).
The letter? K.
The result? A collection of images from a lightning strike hitting a Knoxville trolley Downtown in 1950.
The bolt hit in the 5 a.m. hour on May 5, 1950 (or 5-5-50) in front of the Old Post Office Building at Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue.
Engineers told The Pittsburgh Press that afternoon that the odds of lightning hitting a trolley were extremely low. Nonetheless, that’s what happened, according to the 30 passengers and W.A. Keller, superintendent of equipment for the Pittsburgh Street Railways. One engineer called it “amazing.”
As The Press reported, 22 people were injured during the incident that “shattered windows” and “started a fire over the center doors.” Another bolt hit a trolley line in Etna an hour later, though no one was injured.
“A wall of flame shot back at me. It seemed to cut the car in two,” Knoxville passenger Alda Grazer, then 20 years old, said. “My first thought was, ‘My God, those poor people in the back of the car.’ ”
Not knowing exactly what happened, people panicked.
“The guy sitting next to me reached across and pushed his fist through a window,” 58-year-old Dennis Hinton said. “He scrambled over me and went through. I still couldn’t move.”
The lightning was part of a 15-minute downpour that The Press reported caused $500,000 in damage, hitting communities such as Millvale and Hays the hardest. That storm was part of a larger U.S. weather system, with a “warm wave” from the South colliding with chilly breezes from Canada, The Press said.
Several passengers suffered minor cuts and burns. Fortunately, all but one were treated and dismissed that morning after treatment at Mercy and Allegheny General hospitals.
Seeing as how the incident happened 65 years ago, we’re guessing few, if any, of the injured passengers are still around. But if you know any who are — or heard any stories from the Downtown lightning strike of 5-5-50 — let us know by sending an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is the list of names and ages (when available) of the injured, printed in The Press later that day.
George Abdoo; Steve Bartek, 49; Gleta Becker, 52; Julia Berardini, 53; William Boden; Canoby Cummings, 53; Nick Donati, 64; Barbara Flinner, 55; James Glenn, 39; Alda Laverne Grazer, 20; Dennis Hinton; Delbert Metzler, 54; Pasquale Petroni; Michael Pritz, 54; Stanley Prizner, 31; Luigi Ricci, 60; William Robertson; Mike Romanis; Lawrence Taylor, 39; William Terry, 70; Maria Trimarchi, 54; James Wiley, 36.