28 October 2011

Sepia Saturday 98: Chaos in the Streets

Norwood Streetcar, From the Collection of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
Having successfully taken two children through the long process of obtaining their driver's licenses, it is hard to believe that at one time there were few traffic lights, no turn signals and only a modest few driving guidelines.  To that absence of rules add horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians, bicycles and streetcars and you have chaos in the streets.

The Norwood streetcar above may be the same one Marie Warwick and Eldora McKinley attempted to board in Walnut Hills in 1923.  By 1923, automobile ownership had exploded creating traffic congestion and putting pedestrians at risk.   Marie Warwick was hit by a passing motorist while Eldora was more fortunate and jumped safely to the curb.  But Marie's tragic end was not entirely in vain.

The news of the death of a young woman, only 21 and soon to be married, made the front page of the paper and rekindled a long running debate about road safety.  Marie was one of two women killed by motorists on the same day.  The total for the year in Hamilton Co., Ohio was 135 with 80 pedestrians dying after being hit by automobiles.  For perspective, traffic fatalities in Hamilton County for 2009 were only 43.

Police Officer, 1900
From the Collection of The Public
Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
There was a flurry of traffic improvement activity in 1924 and 1925 with busy intersections monitored, additional stop signs purchased and the creation of a Citizens' Commission to make recommendations.  By far the most amazing was a crack down on jay-walkers on 27 August 1925.  The Cincinnati Commercial reported "Greater Cincinnatians and their visitors were treated to a free 'circus' yesterday when traffic policemen ... swooped down on the congested district and in a campaign to wipe out 'jay-walking' cited to court about 500 persons....  Witnesses enjoyed themselves, while violators in many instances were much embarrassed and many dignified women became highly indignant.  Guests at the large hotels enjoyed Cincinnati's effort to enforce its ordinance."  By the day the fines were due, "practically all the jay-walkers took their arrests good naturedly [sic] and grinned as they formed a line to pay the dollar." (The Times Star, 8 August 1925)

In an effort to control their own traffic problems, officials in Caracas, Venezuela have recently brought a circus of their own to town. Mimes now assist police with traffic direction - making fun of would-be traffic violators by pouting, glaring and grimacing. I suspect being accosted by a mime would be more embarrassing than receiving a citation!

So, as you go about your business this weekend, please follow the traffic laws.  You may save a life.  Besides, if things become too much of a circus, they might just send in the clowns!

In memoriam:  Pearl Marie 'Marie' Warwick (1902-1923) was the daughter of William Morehouse and Pearl (McDonough) Warwick. William was my great-grand uncle.  Pearl Marie was his only surviving child at the time of her death.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 98 on the theme of buses or other public transportation.  For more takes on the theme, see Sepia Saturday

Who Were We was kind enough to comment about videos of the San Francisco earth quake that show just how chaotic the streets were in the early days of the automobile.  Here is one of many available on YouTube:  San Francisco 1905-1906 (short film).  Thanks!

A special thank-you to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County not only for participating in the Greater Cincinnati Memory Project but also for indexing so many of the local newspapers on Newsdex.
"500 'Jay-Walk' Way to Court as Drive Begins."   Cincinnati Commercial Tribune.  28 August 1925, page 1, col. 1; page 2, col. 5-6.

"Cincinnati History Slide Collection."  Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries. Greater Cincinnati Memory Project. http://www.cincinnatimemory.org/ : accessed 28 October 2011. Digital slide image.  "Police Officer, 1900." Identifier: ocp002909pccnb.  Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  Reproduced with permission of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

"Clyde N. Bowden Postcard Collection." Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries.  Greater Cincinnati Memory Project. http://www.cincinnatimemory.org/ : accessed 28 October 2011. Digital postcard image.  [Norwood Streetcar]. Identifier: ocp002909pccnb.  Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  Reproduced with permission of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

"Corners are Timed for Heaviest Traffic Hour."  Cincinnati Times-Star.  4 November 1925, page 14, col. 1.

"Creation of Citizens' Commission to Solve City's Traffic Problems to be Recommended to Council."  Cincinnati Commercial Tribune.  11 December 1924, page 12, col. 5.

"Crusade on Jay-Walkers Speeds Traffic."  Cincinnati Times-Star.  28 August 1925, page 1, col. 1; page 28, col. 3.

"Hamilton County ranks fifth in Ohio for reducing number of traffic fatalities."  Press Release. Hamilton County Public Health. http://www.hamiltoncountyhealth.org/files/files/Press%20Releases/Traffic%20Fatalities.pdf : accessed 28 October 2011.

"Pedestrian is Chief Victim."  Cincinnati Post.  29 December 1923, page 2, col. 3.

"Stop Signs to Mark More Streets."  The Enquirer (Cincinnati).  29 August 1925, page 8, col. 1-4.

"Two Women are Killed by Autos."  Cincinnati Enquirer.  7 September 1923, page 1, col. 2; page 5, col. 1.

Updated 8 September 2016 to remove broken links.


  1. This is an amazing post! Since my daughter and son-in-law just returned from Venezuela, I had to forward the mime article to them. I can already tell you that they have a totally different take on the traffic problems in Venezuela. I love the picture of the streetcar and the ad for "Chester Park."

  2. Hope your daughter provides some on the ground perspective. I'll forward to my friend from Venezuela as well. :) I couldn't believe they had a picture of a streetcar from the correct line!

  3. Poor Marie! Accidents like this were used to justify getting rid of streetcars, because passengers often had to cross traffic lanes to board the streetcar. One of the arguments for using buses instead was that they could pull right up to the curb, thus avoiding accidents like the one that killed poor Marie. Of course the truth is that streetcar boarding areas can be designed with better safety provisions.

  4. Christine, I totally agree. Even something as simple as the stops we now do for school buses would have resolved the issue. It is a shame that the streetcars didn't survive!

  5. Nice looking tram, even though it's a very sad ending to the story. I remember very well being told off by a policeman in no uncertain terms for jaywalking in a quiet side street in Vienna.

  6. Jinsky - Isn't he great! I couldn't resist including him.

    Brett - Can you imagine getting a jaywalking citation or being escorted back tot he curb by a mime. What a hoot!

  7. I wouldn't have liked to be a pedestrian back then. The mimes idea is hilarious.

  8. Postcardy,
    I absolutely loved the mimes - can you imagine! I first heard about them on wait-wait-don't tell me - love National Public Radio!

  9. Now we have pedestrian lights that stop the traffic flow but not for long enough for you to cross the road!
    That's a great tram; we could do with some traffic cops like that; now they whizz by in their cars and contribute to the congestion.

  10. I always notice on old pictures that pedestrians used to wander all over the roads. I imagine it took a while to realise that the vehicles were becoming faster and faster once the speed limit was raised from 4 mph to 14.

  11. Fascinating look at a bit of Cincinnati history. While digging through my own local newspaper archives I have read stories about "auto" accidents back in the day, with many severe injuries and a few fatalities. Apparently the brakes didn't work too well on those older cars either, but I also imagine that those who were used to their horse and buggy did not want to yield so much to the newfangled automobiles.

  12. Bob - I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be more efficient to use traffic cops at peak times of the day!

    Sheila - Very observant of you! I hadn't really noticed until I read the articles about the jaywalkers. They were really funny. Fortunately, most took the whole thing in stride.

    Southwest - Oh my! Your comment about the brakes made me think of something else I learned last week. The first traffic lights only had 2 positions - stop & go! Hard to imagine driving with no yellow lights and bad brakes!

  13. Great post, Liz I love the Wait Wait Dont tell me radio program! :) reminds me i need to take a listen.

  14. Fascinating, though very sad post today Liz. Poor Marie!

  15. There is a great little film clip on the internet made in 1906 in San Francisco, right before the big quake. It shows exactly what you have referenced - chaos! People walking, cars swerving, cable cars bearing down on bicyclists... As with all new eras, we have to learn through experience and unfortunately with the auto, a lot of people suffered and died to give us that experience! Great post!

  16. Thanks all for dropping by.

    Whowerethey - Thanks for mentioning the the video clip. I've added a link to one of them! There are many more on YouTube.
    Thanks! Liz

  17. Absolutely fascinating Liz. I suppose that time gives us some insulation from the sadness. Full of detail and - in the best traditions of monochrome photography - full of colour.

  18. Like Brett, I was once admonished by a policeman in Stuttgart for attempted jaywalking. Hearing a loud whistle and voice from half a block away, I was directed back to the intersection, but the submachinegun was what really commanded my attention.

  19. Even Today , Plenty of People don't realise the damage motor vehicles can do.In those days,even less so i imagine.I suppose tragedy is a severe way of raising awareness.
    A Very Sad Way To Learn.

  20. I see you opted to err on the serious side of the issue today. Jaywalking here in Montreal will set you back about $37 in fine, and that's if you don't argue with the police officer...

    something we are prone to do here!!!


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