f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

Mystery Solved: Chevy vs. tree

Posted Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at 7:30 AM

Our librarian, Sharon Sanders, found the details on this previous mystery photo.

A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air crashed into a tree in the 1000 block of Themis street in Cape Girardeau. James Wrecker responded to the scene, as did G.D. Fronabarger with his camera. The recent inset photo shows the location at 1009 Themis Street.

Southeast Missourian, July 8, 1958:

Two Cape youths were injured in a traffic accident in the 1000 block of Themis today.

Injured in the accident at 7:45 a.m. today were Gary Thomas Christoff, 1408 Bloomfield, and Charles Edwin Schlegel Jr., 26 North Hanover. Christoff, 16, received lacerations of the nose, shins, upper lip and stomach. Schlegel, 15, received lacerations of the chin, forehead and to the inside of his mouth. Both were treated at St. Francis Hospital and dismissed.

Christoff was the driver of a 1955 four-door car traveling east on Themis, police said. Apparently the automobile went out of control and struck a tree on the south side of the street in front of 1000 Themis. The entire front of the car was demolished to the extent of $1200.


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  • Fred,

    Two things you could always find at a car wreck in Cape: a Missourian photographer and James Wrecker.

    I have a photo of a James Wrecker driver - I think it's Joe James - in what looks like a reflective moment.


    I'm not sure why small town papers used to emphasize wrecks so much. Maybe it was because not a whole lot of visual news happened; it might have been because everyone could identify with them (there, but for the grace of God, go I); it could have been that it was likely that we knew the victims.

    I always tried to focus on the folks - regular people AND the pros - who were helping their neighbors in a highly traumatic moment. Sometimes those events would bring out the very best in people. That's what I was looking for.

    -- Posted by ksteinhoff on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 7:46 AM
  • That car must have been going fast!They built cars solid back then and they didn't crumple up easy.

    -- Posted by gandydancergirl on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 9:09 AM
  • Small town newspapers run pictures to sell papers. When I was a kid and got my picture in the paper for something, my parents always bought several copies for keepsakes.

    Its the same principal for wrecks and othr news.

    -- Posted by martlet1 on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 9:54 AM
  • gandydancergirl,

    The first thing I noticed was that the windshield wasn't dimpled. Back in the days before seatbelts, it was common to see the windshield punched out or cracked by flying passengers.

    Steering columns didn't collapse, so they acted like spears; dashboards and steering wheels weren't padded. If the occupants didn't hit the windshield, they often left head dents in the dashboard.

    Kid seats weren't built for crash protection and weren't secured to anything solid. Most of us rode stretched out on the rear window deck when we were small enough, making us instant projectiles.

    Those old cars WERE built more solidly than today's vehicles with their carefully engineered crumple zones. That means that any impact was passed on to the passengers instead of being absorbed by the car body.

    It's a wonder any of us survived.

    Oh, that's right. A lot of us didn't.

    -- Posted by ksteinhoff on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 11:29 AM
  • Your old photos are really appreciated. It is fun to see these of and around Cape. Thanks

    -- Posted by Munchie on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 2:10 PM
  • I too noted that the windscreen was not busted for as hard as the car hit the tree. Maybe it was an unoccupied runaway

    -- Posted by darkstar on Wed, Apr 28, 2010, at 3:45 PM
  • Fred,

    Here are my 2 cents...

    The Chevy struck the tree dead center and...

    the location of impact was between the bumper attachment braces, the weakest point...causing it to bow, absorbing much of the impact. The grill and hood absorbed the remainder. There appears to be some wetness however the radiator may not have been totaled. Doors seem to fit, windshield o.k. A replacement bumper, grill, hood and possibly some stop leak for the radiator from John's Junk Yard and a coat of paint may have put this 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air back on the street for many more miles....no skid marks showing driver was trying to stop, perhaps he/she may have abandoned through the passenger side, however on another look the left fender seems unstable and this may not have been the first tree hit judging by the mis-matched colors.

    -- Posted by Elroy on Thu, Apr 29, 2010, at 12:23 AM
  • That is really cool to see the location now...

    -- Posted by bobby62914 on Thu, Apr 29, 2010, at 1:36 AM
  • looks to me the steering wheel may be a little cock-eyed. Whatcha think?

    -- Posted by howdydoody on Thu, Apr 29, 2010, at 1:29 PM
  • anybody notice... the fatality? Tony Dahlin Venice look closely then contact me

    -- Posted by Tony Dahlin Venice on Fri, May 7, 2010, at 1:08 AM
  • anybody notice... the fatality? Tony Dahlin Venice look closely then contact me

    -- Posted by Tony Dahlin Venice on Fri, May 7, 2010, at 1:08 AM