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Car/train wreck in Gibbon, 11 April 1917
My grandmother, Edith Tewksbury, was engaged to my grandfather, Charles "Paul" Thatcher, at the time of the accident. She was a teacher at the local school, along with Paul's sister, Ruth. That day, as Lora (Paul's mother) and her two daughters went out riding in the car with some friends, they stopped at Edith's home to invite her along. She declined, saying she had papers to grade. Paul was working in a field adjacent to the train tracks when the car carrying the women drove by. He did not see the accident, but he heard it.
Paul and Edith decided to have their wedding earlier than they had planned and to take an extended honeymoon in order to deal with the grief they both felt over the loss of their family members and friends.
Gibbon Reporter 12 April 1917
FAST TRAIN HITS AUTO
ALL OCCUPANTS KILLED
Frightful Accident Occurs Last Evening
At Stockyards Crossing in This City
About five-forty-five last evening at the crossing just west of the Gibbon stock yards east bound train No. 2 struck the Studebaker car belonging to Paul Thatcher and driven by Miss Helen Sloss, who was visiting at the Thatcher home from North Bend. The other occupants of the car were Mrs. Lora Thatcher, two daughters, Sara and Ruth, and Miss Norma Gordon of Kearney, primary teacher in the Gibbon schools. Mrs. Thatcher, Miss Sloss and Miss Gordon were instantly killed, the Misses Thatcher being alive, but unconscious. They were picked up and carried to their home where Ruth died last evening at 7:00 o'clock and Sara at 6:00 this morning, without either of them having regained consciousness.
There were no eye witnesses to the accident and the real facts of the case will never be known. Miss Sloss was an experienced driver* and whether they did not see the train approaching or the brakes of the car refused to work is not known, although Paul Thatcher stated that the brakes had not been working very well of late.
The sudden stopping of the train attracted the attention of persons nearby and they immediately realized that something was wrong and rushed to the stock yards crossing. They found the car resting on the north track about 100 yards east of the crossing. From its appearance the engine of the train had struck it just back of the front seat.
There is hardly a part of the machine that is uninjured, with the exception of the headlights and three of the wheels. The frame were the train struck it is mashed until it touches the opposite side of the body. Only one terminal is broken from the storage battery.
When they first reached the scene of the accident no one knew who it was or whose car it was. Some one standing by picked up a paper that had fallen out on the ground and saw the name "Thatcher", but even then until they thoroughly examined the car, they thought it was a party of strangers. Miss Gordon was the first one recognized, and was the one nearest the crossing. All were thrown clear of the car and Mrs. Thatcher's body was thrown some thirty yards east of the auto on the rails of the north track.
Stretchers and cots were quickly provided and the dead and injured removed as quickly as possible from the scene. Miss Gordon's body was taken to the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Randall, parents of Rex Randall, Miss Gordon's fiancé. Word was sent to her home in Kearney and her mother and brother, Paul, accompanied by a friend and Dr. Cameron, rushed to Gibbon by auto. The father was in Lincoln on business and it was late in the evening before he could be communicated with. He arrived in Grand Island this morning however and L. T. Osborn brought him to Gibbon in his car.
An examination by two doctors confirmed the fact that Miss Gordon was killed instantly by a blow on the head. On arm and one leg were broken and indications are that she was badly crushed internally.
Miss Sloss was terribly cut about the head. No further particulars as to her condition have been learned. Her brother, James Sloss, accompanied by Miss Marie and Roy Cusack and Mrs. G. E. DeWolf, all of North Bend, arrived this morning on No. 19 and arrangements are being made to [section of original text not available]
The Gibbon schools are closed for the remainder of the week and a deep gloom is cast over the entire town. Both Miss Gordon and Miss Thatcher were idolized by their pupils and the grief of the school children is almost beyond their power to endure.
No funeral arrangements have yet been made, but it is supposed that the services for Mrs. Thatcher and her daughters will be held at the same time.
Later--The coroner's jury has been empaneled and they have viewed the remains. The inquest will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock at the town hall.
The remains of Miss Gordon, accompanied by members of her family and Mrs. Randall and son, Rex, were taken to her home in Kearney early this afternoon and the funeral will probably be held sometime Saturday as they are awaiting some relatives from Canada.
The body of Miss Sloss was taken to North Bend on No. 20 this afternoon, accompanied by her brother and Roy and Marie Cusack. Mrs. DeWolf will remain here.
*The other reports say that Helen Sloss was an inexperienced driver, which is probably correct. There is a thought that the whole purpose of the outing was to teach Helen how to drive and it is likely that she either did not see and hear the train or that she stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake.
FIVE KILLED IN AN
AUTO ACCIDENT AT
Norma Gordon, Kearney, Among
Dead in Auto Party
Struck Los Angeles Train
No Eye Witnesses to Fatal
Accident Could Be Found
Party on Return Journey
Failed to See Fast Train Approaching From West Until Too Late
--Auto Thrown Distance of Over Two Hundred Feet-
-Only One of Victims Mangled.
Miss Sadie Thatcher Dies.
Gibbon, Neb., April 12 -- 8 a.m., -- Special to the Hub -- Miss Sadie Thatcher, the only passenger of the wrecked auto who was not killed instantly in the accident Wednesday evening died at the Thatcher home this morning at 6:00 o'clock. This brings the total number of dead to five, every occupant of the car struck by the Los Angeles Limited being dead.
Norma Gordon, daughter of Mrs. and Mrs. John Gordon of Kearney, Mrs. Lora Thatcher, of Gibbon, daughter Ruth, and Mrs. James Lawson of North Bend were killed in an auto accident which took place at Gibbon Wednesday evening shortly before six o'clock. Sadie Thatcher was fatally injured.
The party of five was auto riding, being on their return to Gibbon and coming across the U. P. tracks near the stock yards at Gibbon when the machine was struck by the Los Angeles Limited. The train, which does not make a stop at Gibbon was coasting, traveling at no less than fifty miles an hour. The machine was struck in the center and thrown the full length of the train. It was battered to pieces.
Those rushing to the scene of the accident, including the train crew, found the bodies of Miss Gordon and Sadie Thatcher lying near the wreckage while the bodies of the other three victims were pinned in the wrecked auto. The body of Mrs. Thatcher only was mutilated, the others bearing numerous concussions and bruises, but no mutilation. None of the occupants of the car were caught under the wheels of the train.
There were no eye witnesses to the accident. The crossing, at the point where the accident took place, is not considered a particularly dangerous one but a number of accidents have been narrowly avoided there. Mrs. Lawson was at the wheel of the machine when the accident happened. The car was struck in the center by the fast train. It could not be learned if the engineer and train crew were witnesses to the accident but such facts will be brought to light at a coroner's inquest which is to be held today.
Norma Gordon, of this city, one of the party killed, filled the position of primary teacher in the Gibbon schools. She is the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Gordon, who reside on west Twenty-second street. Only a short time ago her early marriage to Rex Randall, of Gibbon, was announced. Miss Gordon was a graduate of Kearney High and Normal school and was considered one of the most popular young ladies of the city. Her remains were taken to the Randall home after the accident and will be brought to Kearney some time today.
Ruth Thatcher, who was also killed, acted as principle [sic] of the Gibbon schools. The Thatcher family is well known throughout the entire county, being among the pioneers of this city. Sadie Thatcher has been living in Omaha of late, coming to Gibbon only recently because of illness of her mother. Mrs. Lawson, a professional nurse, was learning to drive the machine in which the party met death.
**Note: All other accounts list Miss Helen Sloss as the driver of the car instead of Mrs. James Lawson.
Omaha Daily News
FIVE WOMAN ARE
KILLED IN ACCIDENT
Auto is Hit by Train at
Gibbon, Neb., Hurled Several
Gibbon, Neb. April 12 -- Five persons, all women were killed a mile east of here at 6 p.m. Wednesday when an automobile in which they were riding was struck by a fast eastbound Union Pacific train. The dead are:
Mrs. Laura A. Thatcher, Gibbon
Miss Ruth Thatcher, her daughter, principal of Gibbon schools
Miss Sadie Thatcher, daughter
Miss Norma Gordon, Kearney, teacher Gibbon schools
Miss Helen Sloss, North Bend
Mrs. Thatcher and Misses Gordon and Sloss were instantly killed. The two Thatcher daughters lived a short time without regaining consciousness, Ruth dying at 7 p. m. Wednesday, and Sadie living until early today.
A short time before the accident friends saw Miss Sloss driving the car, which belonged to Mrs. Thatcher. She was unused to driving, it is said, and probably miscalculated the speed of the approaching train and attempted to cross the track ahead of it.
Miss Sloss, whose home is at North Bend, was visiting at the Thatcher home.
Miss Gordon, daughter of John Gordon, coal dealer at Kearney, was primary teacher in the Gibbon schools. Her engagement to a Gibbon young man was announced recently.
The automobile was hurled several hundred feet and demolished.
Coroner Holds Inquest.
The inquest to determine the facts concerning the death of Lora E. Thatcher, Sara Thatcher, Ruth Thatcher, Helen Sloss and Norma Gordon was held Friday morning at ten o'clock in the town hall and conducted by County Coroner Tollefsen. It continued throughout the day. The engineer Tom Burney, and fireman Mr. Loomis, Claim Adjuster Weed and trainmaster Weir were present.
The jury was composed of C. A. Torrance, S. A. A., Walker, E. G. Tunks, Frank Pars, J. H. Rodgers and E. J. Douglass and rendered the following verdict: that said persons came to their death on April 11, 1917 at about five forty-five P.M. by being struck while in an automobile by Union Pacific train No. 2 east bound. We consider the deaths accidental, we also consider the accident unavoidable and the train crew blameless.
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