Retro Charlotte

1935: Southern Railway train smashes into hotel

Photo taken at scene of accident, January 13, 1935.
Photo taken at scene of accident, January 13, 1935. Courtesy of David Erdman

“Two Killed in Southern Train Wreck” shouted the front page of the Charlotte Observer on January 14, 1935. Passenger train #31 from New York had jumped its tracks near N. Tryon and 16th St. and an “express car was thrown over the high embankment at the Tryon street underpass and struck the second story of the Southern hotel.” Two people were killed including a young man who was never identified. (The charitable King’s Daughters took care of his burial at Elmwood Cemetery.)

Here’s the unusual story about a survivor in the Southern Hotel. And don’t miss the slideshow for more astonishing photos of the wreck!

Tells of Experience

Charlotte Observer - January 14, 1935

“Mr. Ellis, proprietor, had just gone to his room on the second floor and was preparing for bed, he said, when he heard the train approaching. He paid little attention to it, he said, even when he felt the impact of a heavy body shake the building.

‘The building always shakes when the trains pass,’ Mr. Ellis pointed out, ‘so I did not feel particular concern when it shook a little harder than usual.’

However, he continued, he did put on one shoe which he had removed and went to a window. The sight that met his eyes was a singular one since it showed the nose of a railway express car poking into his bathroom. The steel juggernaut had halted just on the other side of the partition between the bathroom and the bedroom, it was shown, and only the lack of momentum of the car saved Mr. Ellis from having his preparations for bed rudely interrupted.”

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That April the Observer reported on Mr. Ellis’ lawsuit against the rail company. He sought $20,000, saying that hotel business had been good “before the time the railroad coach poked its nose literally into his business.” Ellis also said he suffered from mental anguish as a result of the harrowing experience. (No word on how the lawsuit went.)

**Special thanks to local attorney and historian David Erdman for telling Retro Charlotte about this story!**

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