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.