photo by Rick Doty
The Henry, Bertha and Nadine Gehner headstone in the Immanuel Cemetery always made me stop and read it... a father, mother and daughter dying within a couple days of each other.
Driving to Edwardsville, Eldon would point out where the accident that happened on old Route 66 northeast of town. I always wondered how this all happened. Recent searches in the online collection of newspaperarchive.com helped me piece together some of the story of the Crash of 1940.
"Two in Family Fatally Injured in Auto Accident"Efforts Being Made to Locate Driver of Red Carnival Truck Who Forced Car From Pavement
Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 1, 1940, page 1
"Two persons were killed and four others injured when the automobile in which they were riding collided with one driven by Richard H Johnson, Urbana, Sunday morning. The accident occured on Route 66 near Mayle Road, northeast of this city."
Sparing the details of injuries (which papers in the 40's appeared to always mention):
- Bertha Gehner died instantly
- Nadine Gehner was taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital and passed away a couple hours later.
- Henry Gehner and the other Gehner children was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield
- The driver of the other car (Richard Johnson) was treated and released from St. Elizabeth's.
From the Intelligencer article; "The accident occured when a large red truck, unidentified, passed the Gehner car, forcing it from the pavement. As Gehner drove back onto the highway, he crosssed the black dividing line and was struck by Johnson's automobile, which was approaching from the opposite direction...
"Deputy corner B.H. Weber said that the red truck involved in the accident was probalby owned by a traveling carnival outfit."
Johnson gave a statement to the deputy coroner on Sunday, summarized in the article. Johnson was driving north on 66 and the Gehners were approaching from the north. "The red truck was behind the Gehners, but the truck then passed the Gehner car. Johnson slows down, but then the truck cut the Gehners off, frocing the Gehner car off the road."
So where's the truck?The next day's Intelligencer provides some insight:
Edwardsville Intelligencer July 2, 1940. Page 1.
Third in Accident Died at LitchfieldHenry L. Gehner, 45 Mt. Olive coal miner and fruit grower, died Tuesday at St. Francis Hospital at Litchfield.
"[Deputy Coroner B. H.] Weber said Wednesday that John Robert Ball, 22 St. Louis, has been connected with the accident as the driver of an amusement truck which figured in the accident. The trash between the cars of Gehner and Richard Johnson, Urbana, occurred after Ball drove around the Gehner machine."
Who is this John Robert Ball?First of all, he's not related to me; no branches of my family would be in St. Louis in 1940 that I know of. There are no John Ball's the right age in the 1940 Census in St. Louis, and none that really match in Missouri. There is however a John Ball in Vandalia, Missouri (aged 28 at the time of the census) whose occupation is listed as a truck driver. The age is wrong, no middle initial is given and he's listed as driving truck for a soda company as of the end of April (when the census was taken). Given the truck was from a carnival it's possible the John Ball involved in the accident was not home at the time of the census, and as a young man may have only been in a boarding house and not really had an address in St Louis at all.
The Last Part of the TaleEdwardsville Intelligencer Feb 10, 1941, page 1.
Man Asks $10,000 Damages, Three Killed"Richard H Johnson, Urbana, filed suit in circuit course here Monday against the Oliver Amusement Company, St. Louis, John Robert Ball, a truck driver for the company, and Arthur F. Gehner, Mt Olive, administrator for the estate of Henry Gehner, for injuries suffered on June 30, 1940 in an automobile accident on Route 66... Johnson says an injury to his left knee prevents him from following the work of a refrigeration expert through which he earned $350 monthly."
Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer. digitized by www.newspaperarchive.com