Dec. 24, 1917: You’d think the conductor and motorman on trolley car 4236 would be civil to each other on Christmas Eve. But here they are, arguing hotly on a car packed with more than 100 people headed Downtown to do a bit of last-minute shopping. Beatrice Hawk hears the argument. The conductor even yells at the passengers, telling them not to block the doors. So much for Christmas spirit. Miss Hawk sees the motorman angrily push a control lever and suddenly the car lurches forward.
Something goes wrong shortly after the trolley enters the Mt. Washington tunnel. Miss Hawk can sense it. The car is dashing down the tunnel’s steep grade, picking up speed at an abnormal rate. Passengers see the motorman feverishly apply the brakes, but to no avail.
At the north end of the tunnel, near Carson and Smithfield streets, people wait on a station platform. Many are mothers and their children, headed Downtown to see Santa Claus at one of the big department stores.
On trolley car 4236, the lights go out. Passengers panic. Screams fill the air. The trolley careens out of control.
Those waiting on the platform have no time to react. The car hurtles out of the tunnel, jumps the tracks and overturns. It continues along on its side and tears through the packed platform. The car strikes a telegraph pole, which rips off the trolley’s roof, and finally comes to rest on Smithfield Street, just past Carson.
Twenty-three people die in the crash. Eighty are injured. It remains our city’s worst mass transit accident. Miss Hawk survives, though she is hospitalized after being trampled by panicked passengers escaping the wrecked car. Authorities charge the motorman with manslaughter.
In the 95 years since this picture was taken, change has come to the intersection of Carson and Smithfield streets. The confectionery is gone, as are the cobblestone streets, but the large brick building and the entrance to the Smithfield Bridge remain much as they were. It is a familiar place to us at the Digs. Since discovering this photograph in our files, and learning of the tragic story it tells, we’ve been unable to travel past the intersection without being moved by the pain and devastation that once visited a place we know so well.