Does it seem as though roads are becoming more hazardous? In the early days of our church, when cars were still a novelty, our second Pastor, Reverend Crane, thought so. And vehicles moved a lot slower back then!
As the number of motorcars began to increase in the city — intermingling with horse carts, carriages, trolleys, bicycles, and others sharing the roads – officials took some odd advice in the struggle to keep everyone safe. In June 1912 – a year after our church building was finished – The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that our Reverend Crane was asked by the coroner to serve on a jury “composed of clergymen” ruling on an “automobile fatality” case, in which a man driving a “motor truck” ran down and killed a woman pedestrian. Six clergymen of different (Christian) faiths “were asked to serve on the jury as a result of a recommendation made a few months ago at the national convention of coroners, the object being to give the clergy an opportunity to impress upon members of their congregation, as well as upon chauffeurs and the owners of automobile and other vehicles, the dangers from the careless driving of motorcars” (The driver in the case was held responsible for the death and remanded for trial).
January 1916 brought traffic issues a little closer to home when the Inquirer ran a short news item headed “Auto Runs Down Aged Man.” In that incident, an SFDS parishioner, John F. Wholey, of 4822 Windsor Ave. (whose father Timothy Wholey would donate our St. Francis de Sales statue in 1920) “was taking a party of friends in an automobile to a wedding in Merchantville” when a man “stepped in front of the machine” at Day and Federal Streets, Camden; was knocked over; and suffered a “probable fracture of the skull.”
Not all automotive troubles were accident related. A different danger made the news in February 1919, with the headline “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The Inquirer reported that a woman who lived next door to the fur store of SFDS parishioner Henry T. Amlung, at 4810 Baltimore Avenue (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence), heard a noise one evening, looked out from an upstairs window, and “was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice, who was putting them into a limousine automobile.”
Fast-moving motor bandits quickly became a significant class of criminals, so police – still on foot – had to invest in vehicles and equipment in order to keep up. On December 23, 1920, the Inquirer reported that “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready. Here they are: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” (The shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with a similar automotive crime wave). Speedy police vehicles might have discouraged automotive crime, but were unlikely to improve safety for pedestrians or other traffic!
As to Reverend (by then Bishop) Crane, the hazards of the new automobile age soon became very personal. On Nov. 11, 1922, Catholic News Service reported that “Rev. Cornelius X. Leahy, pastor of the Church of SS. Peter and Paul at Tower City, died last Sunday as a result of a fracture of the skull sustained in an automobile accident. This accident occurred when Father Leahy was driving with a party, including Bishop Crane, of this city, from Tower City to Tremont, where Bishop Crane was to administer Confirmation.” Curiously, there is no further information on what caused the accident or whether any of the other passengers were injured. We know only that the funeral took place in “St. Canicus’ Church, Mahanoy City” and began “with Divine Office at 10 o’clock. The Right Rev. Bishop Crane presided.”
The world keeps moving. A century later, cars are old news, but the car troubles are still familiar – and now we face challenges Bishop Crane never could have imagined, as we navigate hazards of life online in the new age of the internet!