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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
January 19, 1900

Union Square Alarmed, Then Amused, at Strange Spectacle.

The Horseless Vehicle, First Ridding Itself of Driver and Passenger, Steers a Mad Course.

An electric automobile, driverless, dashing down Fourth Avenue, around the curve of Union Square into Fourteenth Street, finally brought to a standstill against the equestrian statue of Washington, where it continued the harsh grinding of its wheels as though in rage at having its course checked, furnished a spectacle that first alarmed and then amused a throng of people late yesterday afternoon, when the streets were most densely crowded.

The cab was owned by the New York Electric Cab Company, and operated by Walter Yarrow, a young man who lives at 896 Eighth Avenue. The vehicle was spinning down Fourth Avenue with a passenger inside yesterday afternoon at a sober rate of speed, and conducting itself as quietly as the ordinary automobile usually does. At Fifteenth Street, however, Yarrow was seen to jump straight up from his seat with a half-suppressed scream as though he had received a shock.

At the same moment thee vehicle leaped forward at an accelerated speed, apparently sharing the impulse of its driver. As Yarrow came down from his upward spring, he lost his balance, and was on the point of falling from the cab. The automobile had by this time almost reached the curve of the square at Fourteenth Street. As Yarrow was about to fall he grabbed the steering rod in an effort to balance himself, turning the vehicle toward the southwest.

The effort failed him, however, and he was toppled headforemost over the board directly in front of the machine. It passed over his body and dashed ahead.

At the same time the passenger, who had the appearance of a physician, opened the door of the cab and leaped out, sprawling on the pavement. Recovering his feet, he was swallowed up in the pursuing crowd, which had collected at the rear of the vehicle as rapidly as those in its course had scattered.

The machine dashed on. It was now headed for Keith's Union Square Theatre, with a general air of determination which would have put to flight even the gorgeously attired guardians of the doors at that place. The peanut vendors along the Fourteenth Street side of the Square gathered up their wares and carts, wheeling confusedly in all directions. Men in the pursuing mob yelled "Whoa!" and then stopped to laugh at themselves.

But before almost any one knew it, the automobile's wild career had come to an end. The statue of Washington intervened. With a "whirr" the machine into the surrounding iron rails. There was a crash, and ten feet of the rail were torn away. One of the firmly planted iron corner posts was uprooted. Against the solid base of the statue, however, the vehicle came to a stop, its heavy wheels still grinding and gnashing away until the rubber tires had disappeared.

Finally one bystander got up sufficient courage to climb aboard the machine and quiet its apparatus. It was later hauled back, with a mutilated front, to the company's barns by another automobile.

Yarrow, the operator of the runaway vehicle, was removed to Bellevue Hospital, suffering from internal injuries.

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