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Thread: John Howard...a terrible accident

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    Default John Howard...a terrible accident

    Capt. W.C. Hite started his river career as a clerk in the 1840's. He soon got his pilot and captains license; but he mostly invested in steamboats and packet lines. He left the river and returned to his home town Louisville where he started a carpet and steamboat supply store, all the while continuing to invest in the river industry and business's in Louisville. By November, 1882 Hite was one of the wealthiest men in the city and he was the president of the Louisville/Henderson Packet Line and the Louisville/Jeffersonville Ferry Co. Hite had contracted with Howard's to build a new ferry boat, the W.C. HITE. John Howard invited Hite to his home for lunch and to inspect the new vessel, after lunch, along with Howard's brother-in-law Col. Baird, the three went to Louisville so Hite could shop for carpeting for the lady's cabin for the new ferry boat.
    The group went to McKnights Carpet Store located at 2nd and Market where they were greeted by two salesmen. The carpet Hite was needing was on the third floor. The five men got into the elevator , one of the salesmen pulled the control and the elevator started up. As the elevator's cage passed the second floor there was a loud POP as the lead ball which attached the lift cable to the elelvators cage broke. The emergency brake failed and the cage free fell from the second floor to the basement floor. The crash shook the whole building. A black janitor was in the basement and saw the elevator crash, Hite was thrown out onto the basement floor, Howard was slumped in the corner of the cage and the other three occupants were in a pile. (The elevator was installed five years earlier and the lift cable has been replaced just a couple of days before).
    With in minutes there were five doctors on the scene to assist the injured. Howard seemed to be the most injured as he was unconscious for several minutes. Hite tried to get up but couldn't move. The doctors feared that Howard and Hite had serious internal injuries. Hite must have been a big man because they could not use the stretcher the fire dept brought so they used carpeting from the store to make a stretcher. It took six men to move Hite to his home which was four blocks away. After John Howard came two and was stabilized, he was taken to his home in Jeffersonville, in "grave" condition. The other three men in the elevator suffered lesser injuries.
    Hite never recovered, he died three months later as a result of the accident. John Howard slowly recovered, his ankle was shattered and for the rest of his life he was handicapped. I wonder if his injuries were the reason he left the shipyard a year or two later. Researching the past raises more questions than answers.

  2. #2
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    *John Howard/Elevator tragedy*
    Greetings, steamboating colleagues,
    Thanks, Jim, for one fascinating story/history of John Howard and colleagues above. This tragedy a far cry from perceived 'romance, whistles, bells, glamorous cotton packet' stories we often read/hear; yet it is important for the reality of the day. Accidents like this more common then than we realize today. In reading the above three times, I was reminded of the miraculous advances in medical care, surgery etc. today compared to then. I note both Howard and Hite were taken to "their homes" then and not directly to any hospital--such as they were. That usually the case as hospitals then were for where people went to die. Family members often the ones to care for the ill and injured then with disastrous financial issues with men and even women out of work then. Doctors made house calls when needed but little they could do beyond just giving the patient/victim time on their own to heal or death. No doubt the Howards had staff in the house to help. Internal injuries, severe orthopedic trauma were serious with no X-ray, orthopedic surgery with screws, plates etc. along with unheard of physical therapy, 'open' reduction to set, repair bones. Howard could have suffered pain and inability to walk well the rest of his life. Hite could have suffered internal injuries from the sudden hard fall being rough on internal organs--especially the kidneys. I can only wonder what the end of the case was for both with no mention of a law suit or insurance settlement. No, it was not a tender, loving period of history then and for many years. Great account and keep 'em coming, Jim.

    R. Dale Flick
    Summer: From the northern shores of mighty Lake Michigan.

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    You're right Dale, no mention of law suits. In that day 5 doctors arrived on the scene, today it would be 50 lawyers. In the current environment, being in an accident like this would be more monetarily rewarding than winning the lottery.

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    *Accidents/Doctors & Lawyers*
    Morning, steamboating colleagues,
    Right, Jim, RE: "50 lawyers on the scene today." Also back then no OSHA regulations, major union involvement, insurance underwriters lurking, poking around for this n' that. I'm foggy on the date of the above elevator accident but wonder if the elevator was operated with an electric drive motor or steam? Many early elevators were steam operated. Yet, doesn't sound much different from present day elevator malfunctions (granted, few) or escalators in shopping centers, air terminals going crazy with riders piling up on the bottom floor. Medical skills then usually based on homeopathic or holistic approaches. 'Time' was one factor in natural healing if, indeed, it happened. Convalescence, if at all, could take months to years with most acute cases ending in disability.

    I read/heard that the Howard Yards were perhaps a bit more socially aware and supportive of their yard workers when injured or ill with personal visits, baskets of food and home needs. I wonder if any records show any continuing salary for those off extended periods of time? Shipyard work was dangerous then and even now. Other old records mention workers suffering falls, acute trauma, burns, blood poisoning from wood/metal, exposure to weather etc., no antibiotics or advanced pain killers. Daily, weekly, monthly wages for working men and women then dreadfully low. The 'good old days' we say? No way. Keep these stories coming!

    Summer: From the northern shores of mighty Lake Michigan.

  5. #5

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    Dale date of the accident was November 1882. The elevator was installed in 1878 and the report said it was hydraulic.....I assume it was operated off of city water pressure. When I was a kid a friend had an elevator in his house which was operated by city water pressure...his dad wouldn't let us play with it because it raised their water bill.
    From what I've read in its 109 yr history, Howard's shipyard had only one fatality, a fall accident. I don't know about disabling accidents. Things were a lot more "personal" back then, if the owners liked an employee they could be very kind, such as finding an easier job in the shipyard for an injured worker. I have never read any formal policy concerning on the job injuries; like I say it was a lot more personal back then.

  6. #6
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    *RE: 'Hydraulic' elevator/"Personal" etc.*
    Morning, steamboating colleagues,
    Thanks, Jim, for notes on the "hydraulic elevator in 1882" as I'd not thought about any other system than steam or emerging electrical motors. Seems now ages ago I either read or heard orally (possibly from Loretta Howard herself) about a Howard yard employee who was either ill or suffering from a work injury and confined at his home with wife and family. Story was 'somebody' from the Howard family had the cook whip up, pack a big hamper with food and other supplies that were personally delivered to the family by a Howard horse and carriage that included a personal 'visit' to see how the man was doing. I think you're right about such things like that then being more "personal."

    Not many years ago then newspapers CINCINNATI ENQUIRER and CINCINNATI POST converted over to new 'hydraulic' printing presses running directly off water from city mains. In printing in the evening they noticed the ink print fading out. Problem was home consumption of water then increased later in the day with main pressure falling. They had to install booster pressure pumps to keep the water pressure at a uniform level for print run.


    I recently read a longish penned memoir written years later by a man who had apprenticed at the famed 'Cramp Ship Yard' up on the east Coast. He wrote of the bad working conditions, danger of many jobs then. He also mentioned the long rows of saloons and taverns that lined the streets around the vast yards where many yard workers went at lunch time for a drink or two; then back on the job around dangerous machinery. Many also hit the gin mills after work for more drinks. He wondered in his old age that there weren't more accidents in the yard due to men drinking at lunch. Many workers carried their lunch to work in those metal pails we see in old photos. Good stuff, Jim, and keep it coming.

    Summer: R. Dale Flick from the northern shores of mighty Lake Michigan. *Will return to Cincinnati just before Labor Day.

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