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Fatal Bus Crash Led To Construction Of Library

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Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

By DAVE McMILLION
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. (AP) — Their smiling faces in black and white photographs posted on a Facebook page give no hint of the tragedy that claimed their lives.

Mary Louise Downs was described as having a beautiful voice. She had a strong interest in foreign languages and often helped other students with their work.

The student newspaper at Williamsport High School said that Virginia Myers was a “reliable and generous friend,” was very gifted in music and played the piano and violin.

Pearl Emerson, president of the junior class at Williamsport High School, was described on the Facebook page as a “very intelligent girl” who excelled in Latin, French and English.

The three Williamsport High School students were among 14 people killed when a bus carrying students back from a chemistry show at the University of Maryland was struck by a train at a grade crossing in Rockville on April 11, 1935.

Debi Carbaugh Robinson, who wrote a book about the tragedy, said 13 of the students killed attended Williamsport High School, and one graduated from the school the year before.

The bus was sheared in half, and one of the survivors said in 2000 that everyone sitting behind him was “annihilated.”

“I never got over it,” Duward Hose said at the time.

The tragedy was national news, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it pointed to the need to spend $200 million to replace grade crossings with overpasses.

At home in Williamsport, the accident led to the construction of the Williamsport Memorial Library on East Potomac Street in honor of those who died that day.

The names of the 14 students are listed on a plaque at the entrance to the library. Every year, the library’s board of directors hands out $500 scholarships to two outstanding Williamsport High School students in honor of the accident victims, according to Dick Grimm, a member of the library’s board of directors.

The accident inspired Robinson, a Williamsport resident, to write the book “The Rockville Tragedy,” which was published in 1995. Although the book is out of print, it is available on Kindle through Amazon.com, Robinson said.

Carbaugh said in a recent interview that she has come in contact with more friends and family members of victims, whose stories give fresh perspectives on the crash which one survivor said affected every family in Williamsport.

Carbaugh said a friend of one accident victim gave her a dried rose from the victim’s funeral. A family member of accident victim Bertha Castle contacted Carbaugh and told her about how Castle had purchased her dress for the prom.

Castle was buried in the prom dress.

“That brings tears to my eyes,” Carbaugh said. “I feel like a know the story inside and out.”

In memory of the 14 victims, Carbaugh has been posting stories about them and their photographs on the Conococheague Memories Facebook page.

Profiles on all 14 victims were posted ahead of the 77th anniversary of the April 11 crash. Among the students profiled is James “Jimmy” Flurie.

Jimmy was the “proud owner of a very old violin” which he played on radio programs, according to the Facebook page.

Flurie played prominent roles in plays at Williamsport High School and had been cast in a leading role in a senior class play that was scheduled for May 24, 1935.

“He also liked sports, and played soccer and baseball for Williamsport High School,” the Facebook page notes. “He was athletic and always excelled at the annual track and field meet.”

Another victim, Norris Downs, was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. C. Norris Downs, who lived on Potomac Street. Downs, who was nicknamed “Newt, ” loved history and stayed up to date on current events by reading magazines and newspapers. His great sense of humor endeared him to many people, his Facebook posting said.

Grimm said there is not a lot of talk anymore about the crash.

“It’s really kind of lost its local interest,” said Grimm.

The crash was recalled at a recent town hall during a ceremony to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Williamsport.

Washington County Board of Commissioners member Jeff Cline said “pennies” were collected to build the library after the crash, and the reaction to the tragedy shows the “true grit of this community.”

“If you don’t know about (the crash), I suggest you go and read about it,” Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said during the ceremony.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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