When Presidents Collide

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In October, 1975, a carful of teenagers came cruising down a Hartford, Connecticut, street and rammed into a limousine carrying President Gerald R. Ford. Though the Chief Executive was momentarily shocked, nobody was hurt, and the incident passed away in smiles when President Ford later telephoned the hapless young driver to say that everything was all right. At that time a spokesman for the Secret Service said that the freak accident was the first of its kind.

But no man escapes history, and we know that the Presidential mishap was no more than a pale echo of something that happened in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in September of 1902. The victim them was President Theodore Roosevelt, and he was not nearly so affable about his accident as President Ford was about his.

Roosevelt was heading along South Street in an open landau, accompanied by Governor W. Murray Crane of Dalton, his host, and the Presidential secretary, George B. Cortelyou, when a crowded trolley car speeding along to a local country club smashed into the carriage. A Secret Service agent sitting next to the driver was killed instantly; the President Governor Crane, and the secretary were hurled to the ground. A contemporary account says that “Teddy picked himself up where he had been flung and issued a blistering oath toward the conductor.” The oath was followed up by stiff jail sentence; both the conductor and the motorman drew eighteen months for manslaughter.

Roosevelt’s minor abrasions soon disappeared, but his memory of the incident did not. Several months later three lions on their way to a Pittsfield theatre escaped frosm their cages and prowled the streets. According to local legend the mayor of Pittsfield sent Roosevelt a whimsical telegram suggesting he come to Pittsfield and use his hunting skills to bag the lions.

“No need of my coming,” T.R. wired back. “The streetcars will get them.”