Thursday, April 6, 2017

An Accident in Mount Holly in 1916

I'm writing about my grandfather today on his birthday, April 6.  He was born in 1903 in Mount Holly, New Jersey.  In the 1915 New Jersey State Census, his family was enumerated on June 7 at 115 Clover Street, Mount Holly.  My grandfather is the third person listed, Bertram L. Sellers.

Census of the State of New Jersey, 1915, Burlington County, Northmpton Township, Mount Holly City,
Second Supervisor's District, pages 6B, line 100, and 7A, lines 1–6 (image has been edited)

Less than a year later, when he was just shy of 13 years old, he was in a serious accident.  The event was reported in the Wrightstown, New Jersey newspaper of January 23, 1916:

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January 23, 1916

Two others probably fatally hurt in Mount Holly catastrophe.  Lads disregarded elders warning against playing in dangerous excavation.


Mount Holly N.J. January 22 - Caught beneath a mass of rocks and sand when the walls and roof of the cave in which they were playing fell in today.  Howard Powell,jr. 12 years old, a son of Howard Powell of 112 Cherry Street, and Earnest Street, 12 years old, of 135 Risdon Street, were killed , and Russell Street, 10 years old, and Bertram Sellers, 11 years old of Broad Street and Risdon Street  were probably fatally injured.

The accident occurred on the side of the mount from which Mount Holly gets its name,at Rossell and Main Street.  The cave in which the children were playing was made by them several weeks ago.  Sellers who had visited the spot and noticed that a large rock standing on the roof of the cave was making the excavation a dangerous place, had warned the boys to keep out, but their warnings had no effect.

Just before the accident the four boys who were caught in the earth slide and Norman Woodington, 14 years old, of 302 Ridgeway Street, were playing in the vicinity of the cave.  Howard Powell then went into the cave and called the others in.  All entered but the Woodington boy, who started to walk away from the spot.  Hearing a noise he turned and was horrified to see that the whole side of the mount had fallen on the boys.

Running, screaming out into the street, he summoned aid and before many minutes had passed about a dozen men were busy with shovels digging towards the boys who were buried.  The men were spurred on in their work by the moans which from time to time they heard coming from the earth at their feet.  In about fifteen minutes the bodies of the buried boys were in view.

A hasty examination by physicians who had been called to the scene showed that Howard Powell and Earnest Street were beyond help.  After trying the
The physicians placed the other two boys in the automobile of Under Sheriff Joseph Fleetwood and made a hurried trip to the Burlington County Hospital.  After an exhaustive examination the physicians at the institution declared that there   nall possibility of either of the lads recovery.  The Sellers boy is suffering from a broken shoulder, a broken arm and compression of the lungs.  The Street boy, a brother of Earnest Street, is suffering several internal injuries.


The four boys all attended the same school.  They had formed a small scout organization of their own and the cave was their headquarters.  Norman Woodington, who gave the alarm and Grace Budd and Eleanor Warwick who saw the accident, were ill, from the shock, last night.

Another member of the band, who probably owes his life to the fact that his duty in the organization is the placing of muskrat traps around the banks of the surrounding streams, is 15 year old Lawrence Powell, a brother of Howard Jr.  He left his brother and his friends this morning to place the traps and had not returned to join in their fun when the accident occurred.

The hill in which the boys had the cave was composed of sand and large stones, with practically nothing to hold the earth together except the small wooden supports erected by the youngsters on the inside of the dugout.  These proved to be entirely inadequate to withstand  the shock when the weight of the large boulder broke in the roof, the excavation was about twenty feet deep and about fifteen feet wide.

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A week later, on Friday, January 29, the Mount Holly Herald covered the story with some updates:

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The hand of fate dealt a cruel blow in Mount Holly on Saturday afternoon when Ernest Street, twelve years of age, son of Ella Street, of Risdon St., and Howard Powell, twelve years of age, son of Mr. and Mrs.Howard W. Powell, of Cherry St., were killed by the collapsing of the upper part of a cave in which they were playing on the Rossell St. side of the mount, and Russell Street, brother of Ernest, and Bertram Sellers, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. Elmer Sellers, of Clover St., boys about the same age as the others, narrowly escaped a similar horrible death.  It was a most distressing accident from which the people of the town, especially those on hand to assist in rescuing the little fellows have not yet recovered.

The boys had gone to the dug-out after dinner to have some real fun and in their innocent play they had no thought of the danger that confronted them.  The cave was a large and deep one, extending into the embankment about ten feet, and in the mass of earth over their heads was a rock that must have weighed close to two tons.  The four mentioned were inside the hole enjoying all there was in that kind of play and William Woodington, a member of the party, was on the outside.  Without warning to any of them, the tons of earth and stone came down upon them and all but Woodington were buried within an instant beneath the great load.  They were prisoners beyond the aid of Woodington, who became almost frantic but not so badly excited that he could no give an alarm.  Grace Budd and Eleanor Warrick were playing nearby and they and Woodington ran as fast as possible to summon assistance.  Men in the vicinity were quickly on the scene digging with all their might with shovels and hands in their efforts to get the imprisoned lads to the surface.  A general alarm sent out by those first informed of the sad affair brought many rescuers to the scene and in a remarkably short time everything possible was being done.  The rock materially interfered with the rescue work.  It was so heavy that planks and jacks had to be used to remove it.  Physicians had been sent for and Drs. Parsons, Barrington, and Whitehead rushed to the mount with all possible speed.  They were on hand before any of the boys had been uncovered.

The removal of the rock and earth presented a sight that those on the scene will never forget--four little boys huddled together, helpless prisoners under the great weight that had crushed them down and two of them companions in death as they had been in play.  Men among the rescuers who had rendered service in numerous emergency cases were noticeably affected by this heart-rending condition and some became almost white with fear that their efforts to save the lads would be in vain.  But they kept on working

The first to be uncovered were the two boys who are alive.  Fortunately they were nearer the entrance to the cave and their heads were nearer the surface.  After the earth and rock had been removed it was possible for them to breathe.  They were unconscious when taken out but the physicians quickly had them restored to a condition that enabled them to say the boys were alive.  Then there was hope that death had not overtaken the other two, but the later developments proved too sadly that all of this hope and the silent prayers that went with it were in vain.  The dead boys had been crushed by the rock and it is thought that death must have come to them almost instantly.  The physicians applied every means known to them to restore life, but their combined efforts failed to produce the desired results.

Russell Street and Bertram Sellers were carried to the residence of Norman W. Barker and there given the attention needed before it was ordered that they be removed to the hospital.  Both were suffering from being crushed and the Sellers boy had a double fracture of one leg near the ankle.  The Street boy gained strength steadily after he was over the shock of his harrowing experience and he was removed to the home of his mother on Tuesday but the Sellers boy has not beenso fortunate.  On Sunday it was feared that amputation of his badly injured leg would be necessary, but an operation was performed, the bones were set and held in position with a silver plate and he now appears to be getting along nicely.  The Surgeons were particularly well pleased with the success of the operation.  The lad developed quite a high temperature on Monday and he had sinking spells on that day and Tuesday.  This caused some fear that undiscovered complications were overtaking him, but since then there has been a satisfactory change for the better.  It is to be hoped that there will be nothing more to add to this horrible affair.

The funeral of the Powell boy took place on Tuesday afternoon and that of the Street boy on Wednesday afternoon.

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My siblings and I always knew that Grampa's leg had been lost in some sort of accident when he was about 13 years old, but he never talked about it.  We didn't see these transcriptions of newspaper articles until almost ten years after he had died.  Even though the second article says that the doctors thought his leg would be fine, apparently something happened later.

Losing a leg didn't slow my grandfather down much, though.  He still managed to have three marriages, one significant liaison, and five children.  His right leg was amputated, but he drove a stick shift vehicle.  And he didn't start to slow down until he was 80 years old.

Anna (my grandmother) and Ruth
It's interesting to think about timelines in your research and what different people in your family were doing at a given point in time.  When this happened to my grandfather, my grandmother, who was born in 1893, had been married for a little more than two years.  Her first child, my father's oldest half-sister, was about a year old.  I don't think anyone could have predicted that less than 20 years later my grandparents would be together and my father would be born.

By the way, if anyone can get me actual copies of these newspaper articles, I would really appreciate it!

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