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Woodward's Accident: A Comprehensive Account

1913 Poster of Mount Lowe and Mount Wilson
1913 Poster of Mount Lowe and Mount Wilson.
A great illustration to orient the reader as to the landscape
and features discussed in the telling of this story.

THE DAY OF: A Fictional Story Based on True Events

Story by Brian Charles Miller

Labor Day morning, September 3, 1906, Los Angeles County, California. A young Rob Woodward groggily lifts his head from his makeshift pillow and props himself up on his elbow searching in the dark for his pocket watch. It had been a cold night of light, restless sleep camping in the San Gabriel Mountains near Mount Wilson's peak. He was with his close friends from Peoria, Victor West and Fred Bourland, and they were supposed to return to LA the night before. Not wanting the long weekend to end, they opted to stay just one more night and return on the first electric train leaving from Alpine Tavern on Mount Lowe the following morning. All three worked for Woodward's father Orion, and he has plans and events that he is expecting them to attend. Rob wonders to himself how much trouble he will face. Snapping back to the present, he strikes a match to see the time on his watch.

It is close enough to the time they would need to get started. The tent is cold and damp from the overnight condensation. Rob sits up, rubs his eyes and begins to roust his friends, "Time to go..." He grabs his holster and jacket and exits the tent to start a small fire to heat up the coffee they prepared the previous night. With the coffee heating up they start the joyless task of gathering their things and breaking down the campsite. It is going to be a long day and there is little time to waste if they are to make their ride home.

Topographical map of the terrain
Topographical map of the terrain from Mt. Wilson
to Mt. Lowe with Eaton Canyon between the two.
It would take the boys approximately 1hr 30mins
maybe longer in the dark cloudy night.

The friends all slept in their clothes meant for their return and already packed what they could. The temperature is around 50 degrees on a cloudy night with a full moon setting low in the sky just to the west of their camp, the beam barely breaking through. For better visibility the boys light their lanterns for the hike ahead and to check the area for anything they may have missed. All packed up, they are ready to begin the nearly four mile hike to Mount Lowe on the other side of Eaton Canyon. Fortunately for them, there is a clear cut path once intended to connect a light rail line from Mt. Lowe to Mt. Wilson but never completed.

Nonetheless it will be quite a hike in the dark with steep drops on either side and unpredictable wildlife still prevalent. The boys will carry the firearms they brought with them for such an encounter. On the trek the boys will need to first descend from near the top of Mt. Wilson (el. 5,680ft) heading northeast which then follows a climb in elevation towards the peak of San Gabriel Mountain. Part way up San Gabriel is Eaton Saddle (el. 5,120ft) the only passable means from one side of Eaton Canyon to the other and west to Mt. Lowe.

Once past Eaton Saddle, it is less than two miles to the Alpine Tavern (el. 4,420ft) just below the Mt. Lowe's peak (el. 5,650ft). They will again descend down, this time from the foot of San Gabriel, and then climb the rise to Mt. Lowe. Waiting for them would be the special holiday sunrise trolley of the Mount Lowe Railway run by the Red Cars of the Pasadena & Pacific Electric Railway. The sunrise special, slated to leave downtown Los Angeles at 2:30 a.m., arrives at Mt. Lowe sometime around 5:30 a.m. with a carload of passengers to watch the sunrise from the mountain's peak (5:28 a.m. PST). It is a holiday and the Red Car will surely be packed with sightseers and day-trip hikers looking to enjoy the holiday in the mountains.

Early 20th Centruy photo of the Alpine Tavern
Early 20th Centruy photo of the Alpine Tavern
with the Mount Lowe Railway open Red Car dropping off

The three friends arrive on time weaving their way through the crowds of people milling about and impeding their way. It is roughly 5:30 a.m. At the Red Car pick-up, the boys drop their packs for a moment's rest. The hard part of the journey is over. All that remains is the two hour ride home to downtown LA. It is still quite cool, and the boys are sweaty from the rigorous trek. Rob gets a chill with the thought of their descent into the willowy mist below sitting in open cars, but today it will be even worse. There is a fog over the Los Angeles basin left by an unseasonably cool night. He bends down, opens his pack, and finds a sweater. Pulling the sweater from the pack, he removes his jacket and for expediency, pulls the sweater on over top of his shirt and holstered .32 caliber revolver.

The boys board the Alpine Red Car at the Alpine Tavern roughly around 5:45 a.m. to begin the winding and scenic 4 mile descent down the mountain. There will be three transfers total in their two-hour, 23 mile return to Los Angeles. The first is from the Alpine Line to the custom incline rail at Mount Echo (el. 3,200ft). There the friends will board the specially built car dropping them down the final 1,300 feet of the San Gabriel Mountains, at a grade as high as 62%, to the Rubio Canyon Pass (el. 1,955ft) where another custom Alpine Trolley will be waiting. The final Alpine Red Car will take them south to Altameda. Finally, they will board a regular Pasadena Red Car trolley to Los Angeles' First Street & Hill Station just one block from where they are all staying. The ride home is quiet. With no scenery to enjoy due to the fog, they all reflect on the summer that has past and the future that awaits. In their hearts are the hopes, dreams, and promises that come with the potential and possibilities of youth.

Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's Granite Gateway
Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's
Granite Gateway
Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's Horse Shoe Curve
Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's
Horseshoe Curve
Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's Circular Bridge
Mt. Lowe Railway Alpine Line's
Circular Bridge. The backdrop in the
distance is a pastoral Pasadena, CA

Mt. Lowe Railway Incline Rail, Mt. Echo to Rubio Canyon
Mt. Lowe Railway Incline Rail,
Mt. Echo to Rubio Canyon. Meeting
the incline rail, to the left, is a
another special alpine Red Car to
Altameda. From Altameda there is a
transfer to a regular Red Car on
the Pasadena short line to LA.

September 1, 1906, Mt. Lowe Advertisement
September 1, 1906, Mount Lowe advertisement from the Daily
Telegram. We believe it is a regularly run generic advertisement. Other ads
specifically mention special holiday times. For years, the most popular
ride to the top on Mt. Lowe was its "Sunrise Special" leaving downtown
Los Angeles at 2:30 a.m. and arriving at the Alpine Tavern by 5:30 a.m.
Olive Street from Pershing Square Los Angeles
Olive Street from Pershing
Square Los Angeles looking North.
Three blocks south from Castle
Craig. It was the closest we could
get. Pershing Park is the heart of
LA's financial district. Orion's
office one block east to it.
1906 LA Map Showing Railway Systems
1906 LA Map Showing Railway Systems

The young men arrive at the Castle Craig Hotel apartments on Second and Olive Street (today the far southwestern corner of the Disney Symphony Hall parking lot) just before 8:00 a.m. They enter the apartment of Rob's parents, Orion Leroy (O.L) and Mary. They all drop their packs and with the immediacy of a second wind taking over their lungs, begin to recount their mountain adventures. The boys talking over each other like preschoolers competing for Orion and Mary's attention. Mary has some breakfast ready for their arrival. It takes a few minutes but she eventually gets them all to finally sit down at the table to eat. The boys continue regaling Orion and Mary with the weekend's campaign.

With some food in his stomach and adrenaline receding, young Rob is now feeling warm and tired. He excuses himself from the table to get cleaned up and a fresh change of clothes. It is just about 8:30 a.m. He is eager for a long day of picnics and activities, but most especially going to the Japanese tribute celebration in Venice (CA) honoring the emperor's birthday. It will be the first of its kind on the American continent and is expected to draw huge crowds. He enters his room. The first thing he does is empty his pockets. He then heads to his closet, turns and sits on a trunk to remove his boots. He stands to pull off the sweater he slipped over himself just before heading down the mountain rails. Grabbing the bottom of the sweater and in one fluid motion pulls the sweater up over his head...

Castle Craig Advertisment, March 4, 1910, LA Times
Castle Craig advertisement- Note the
building totals 65 rooms divided into 21
apartments with private baths. The Woodwards
have lived there a year before RSW arrives.
The reference to Fourth and Broadway is to
appeal to businessmen as the heart of the
business and financial district. At this time,
we have not found any pictures.

In the other room the others hear a loud crack followed by a dull thud. Everyone races to the source of the blast. Orion is first, hurrying to the door of his son's room, swinging it open. He enters to find his son is splayed out prone on the floor near his closet. There is a steady stream of blood coming from his chest and pooling on the floor. Orion immediately turns colliding into the others behind him. Panicked, he mutters something to the effect of going to get help. He pushes his way past his wife, Victor and Fred who hardly understood what he said. They peer in to the room collectively. Mary, distraught, runs to her son and kneels beside him in horror with tears streaming down her cheeks. Behind Mary, Victor and Fred enter the room confused and uncertain. Upon realizing their friend is in dire need, Victor springs to action first. He grabs Fred by the arms and directs him to go find Orion and assist his efforts to get urgent help. After releasing Fred, Victor then instinctively turns to the bed and begins striping it down to use its bedding to tend to his fallen friend. He approaches the body, Mary kneeling at its side. He gently takes Mary by her shoulders to move her back and give him room to work on slowing the blood coming from young Rob's left side.

Topographical map of the terrain
A capture of the Los Angeles downtown area.
The graphics illustrate the location of the accident
in relation to the LA Police Headquarters. It is 3 blocks.

Outside, Fred is out of his mind with what to do. He cannot find where Orion went to call for an ambulance. Before he knows it, out of sheer urgency, he finds himself sprinting the three blocks down Second Street to LA Police Headquarters. His frantic burst into the building, desperate for help, draws the attention of current Los Angeles Police Chief Walter Auble. Chief Auble takes charge and dispatches a police ambulance to the scene. He then goes to the Castle Craig Hotel himself to investigate and coordinate the rescue effort. The police ambulance arrives at the Castle Craig with a medic who races to the apartment to find his patient is already being attended to by Dr. George B. Walrath. Confused, the medic is told Orion fetched the doctor who lives close by and knows the family.

An early 1900 photo of a horsedrawn ambulance
An early 1900 photo of a horse-drawn
ambulance. This image shows a nurse sitting
along the driver in Coney Island, NY

Comforted by Victor, Mary looks on with worry as Dr. Walrath attends her son and prepares him for the journey to the hospital. Orion is in the other room answering Chief Auble's questions. Rob is finally placed on a stretcher and carefully escorted to the horse-drawn vehicle waiting outside. It is difficult navigating the now curious witnesses who have gathered in the hallways and on the street. The commotion also draws the attention of a Los Angeles Herald's beat reporter who will cover the story from the scene. Once Rob is secured in the ambulance it promptly heads to the Good Samaritan Hospital just over a mile away. Dr. Walrath rides with Rob in the police ambulance. Mary and the others are set to follow behind just as soon as they secure a ride. Wrought with grief, they are aware their loved one's chance for survival is considered slim.     BCM

September 3, 1906 The Los Angeles Express
September 3, 1906
The Los Angeles Express

FRONT PAGE: Newspaper Accounts of the Event

Four Los Angeles newspapers covered the event. The first being the afternoon addition of the Los Angeles Express (to the left) the day of the incident. All the newspapers reporting the accident cite (1) O.L. Woodward and the company he works for, Briggs Real Estate company, (2) the location - Castle Craig, Second and Olive Street, (3) the Mount Wilson return with friends, (4) eating breakfast first with his parents, (5) the incident occurred around 8:30 a.m; (6) the gun is a revolver, (7) the bullet just missed the heart, and (8) the injuries may prove to be fatal. All of the articles mentioning his age got it it wrong. Most give his age as 19 and one listed it as 20. (Woodward is 21 at the time.) After these 8 items all the articles vary in one respect or another.


The first report on the accident appeared in the day's evening paper, the Los Angeles Express. The headline reads, "BULLET INJURY MAY CAUSE DEATH." The copy introduces the theory Woodward was cleaning his gun but qualifies it stating, "his parents believe that he was cleaning the revolver, which he had used on the trip, and that it was accidentally discharged." It also gives us a graphic description of the injury, "The bullet entered his left breast, about an inch below the nipple and to the right, and, just missing the heart, plowed its way through to the back, tipping the spinal cord." It also reports that Robert was "partially paralyzed" and "semi-conscious" when being placed in the police ambulance.

The Los Angeles Express article appears well reported. It is straight to the point. It is not sensationalized by any means. The fact that it qualified that Robert's parent believed he was cleaning his gun is very important. It feels like a press release though. Something caught during a press briefing by the police. This article was picked up and printed nearly word for word in the next day's San Francisco Chronicle.

Los Angeles Herald, September 4, 1906
Los Angeles Herald,
September 4, 1906

Three of following day three newspapers covered the story. The first one we will discuss is the article we have known about for the longest time (because RSW kept the clippling) and up until recently was our main source of information relating to the accident. It is the Los Angeles Herald. Its headline reads, "ACCIDENTAL SHOT MAY PROVE FATAL ROBERT WOODWARD MAY DIE FROM WOUND." This article introduces the time of arrival, 8:00 a.m. Unlike the previous Express article, the Herald gives more of a glimpse into the atmosphere and mood of the morning events, "He arrived home about 8 o'clock, apparently in the, best of spirits, and entertained his father and mother with stories of his adventures on his mountain trip." The article also gives us a timeline, in that, after briefly sitting down for breakfast with his parents, "the young man went to his room and soon after a pistol shot was heard." The article then describes details of the response, "While the agonized father telephoned for a physician a lodger ran down to the police station. Chief Auble ordered the police ambulance to the house and went himself to investigate the case." It also gives us interesting information as to the scene, telling us, "...young Woodward was seated on a box in his closet and cleaning his revolver." The article also specifically states that Dr. George B. Walrath was summoned to "attend the case" and Robert was unconscious.

Of all the coverage, the Herald's coverage is the most unique, mainly because it spends a great deal of space on Chief Auble's investigation. It is almost as if the reporter was at the actual scene and spoke personally to the Chief. This is not unreasonable. A beat reporter assigned to the police would have caught the story quickly and may have even been at the station as things unfolded. What troubles us about this article is (1) the reporter speaks little of Woodward's status at the hospital, suggesting the reporter did not stay with the story and (2) much of the account feels speculative, particularly the description as to how Woodward actually shot himself, "He evidently held the gun with the muzzle pointed toward him, and in some manner pulled back the hammer, discharging the weapon. The investigation showed the boy had failed to eject the cartridges before beginning to clean the weapon." The reporter's first sentence is why two of the articles cite the incident as a possible suicide, which is later ruled out.

September 4, 1906 The Los Angeles Times
September 4, 1906
The Los Angeles Times

This account is problematic for number of reasons. First (1), it specifically mentions Woodward was only away from his parents for moments before the accident. Second (2), anyone who knows anything about any type of revolver knows that the very first thing you do to clean it is to release the cylinder that holds the bullets. You cannot clean it otherwise. So forgetting to remove the cartridges (bullets) is a moot point. In other words, it is near impossible to shoot yourself cleaning a revolver. By all reasonable accounts the muzzle should never have been facing Robert, nor would he, at the same time, " some manner pulled back the hammer," as described in the papers.

The next article we are to discuss comes from the Los Angeles Times. The Times is the lone article to list Woodward's age at 20. Its headline reads, "BULLET THROUGH BREAST." It is the first article we found to name the caliber of revolver, a 32-caliber. The Times does not state he was in the act of cleaning his gun but rather, "... he went into the adjoining room to clean and put away the firearms that had been carried. While he was engaged in doing this he accidentally discharged a 32-caliber revolver." It also clarifies information introduced by The Herald regarding the doctor, "Dr. George Walrath was summoned and took charge of the patient until he could be taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital..." But what is most significant about The Times article is that they stayed with the story late into the evening at the hospital. The Times actually spoke to the doctor and this is how we learn, "... that after an X-ray examination it was found that the bullet had taken a downward course after entering the body, and had lodged near the eleventh dorsal vertebra."

Graphic of 11th Thoracic Vertebrea
This graphic illustrates the approximate
trajectory describe in the LA Times September 4th
article. In full opacacy is the 11th Thoracic
Vertebrea. Lower than we imagined, it explains the
discrepancies as to whether RSW was paralyzed
from the waist down or chest down.

Woodward friend, Dr. Lawrence Lunt, in a letter stated
in letter it was the waist. Former Woodward employee
and benefactor Dr. Mark Purinton said it was the
chest down. Either is now considered correct.

While The Times gives us a perfunctory report of the events at the apartment earlier, it offers us the only significant information with regard to the injury itself. This is invaluable. For years, before learning which vertebrae was struck, we believed the injury was much higher (the fifth or sixth thoracic vertebrae at the very least). The fact it took a downward path, hitting the 11th thoracic vertebrae, is a game changer. Why was the gun up so high and pointing down? It also answers the confusion over whether Woodward was paralyzed from the chest down or the waist down. It is both. The injury is just below the chest and above the waist.

September 4, 1906, Los Angeles Daily Progess
September 4, 1906,
Los Angeles Daily Progess

Finally, the last article we located from September 4, 1906 is by the Los Angeles Daily Progress. Its headline reads, "PROMINENT YOUNG MAN SUICIDES." Unlike any of the other articles we learn that Robert and his friends were suppose to return from the mountains the day before and that they, "reached the city shortly after 8 o'clock by the electric line." Furthermore, the article offers another detail, "Woodward finished his meal before his father and mother had done so, and went to his room. A minute later a shot rang out, there was a hoarse cry of 'My God, I'm shot!"' It also echos the report given by The Express and The Herald that a lodger went to get the police and that the incident was investigated as a possible suicide but later ruled out.

We do not know exactly what to make of the information in this article because it has information none of the other papers contain. Did Woodward cry out something? Could he have? We do not know, however, the reporter could have simply asked questions the other reporters did not think to ask. Still, the article is a bit more sensationalized then any of the others. Its headline today would be what we call, "click bait," design to draw peoples attention and though not entirely false, could be construed as misleading. Did the writer embellish the story a bit to add a more dramatic effect? There is no saying for certain but since it is not corroborated by the other newspapers we will take it with a grain of salt.

Two .32 caliber revolers available in 1906
There were only two .32 caliber revolvers
available in 1906. The top gun is a Smith &
Wesson and beneath it is a Colt Police Special.
Each gun's cartridges open differently

The Daily Progress, along with the Express, report Woodward to be in a semi-conscious state, however, the Herald says he was unconscious and the Times says nothing at all. We believe the Herald reporter at the scene because he appears to have spoken personally to Chief Auble. Whereas, we believe, the other two papers received their information from a press release made by the police. There is no way to say for sure which is correct. We have comfirmed with medical professionals that the accident would not necessarily render him unconscious and it is possible to be in a semi-conscious state.

On September 5th only The Times and The Herald ran follow-ups. Notably neither newspaper mentioned Woodward cleaning his gun. They state only he accidentally shot himself. We did not find any follow-ups in any other newspapers.

The Times and The Herald report Woodward is in critical condition having undergone two operations to locate the bullet. We learn the first immediate surgery was without the benefit of an x-ray. An x-ray was taken after the first surgery which stabilized him. Only then did the doctor learn they had been looking in the wrong direction. The bullet took a downward path. The second surgery to locate the bullet had to be abandoned early, because Woodward's condition was deteriorating quickly. Another attempt would be made at a later date after he had garnered more strength. The Herald reports, "... hospital attendants did not give much hope of recovery, saying that if the young man survived he would probably be a paralytic," and The Times states, "...the only hope that is now held out for his recovery is that he shall retain sufficient strength to undergo another operation."

On the third day following the accident (September 6, 1906), only the Times stayed with the story. The headline reads, "Woodward's Condition Improves,". The Times also did one last follow up on the 7th; "Woodward's Condition Encouraging." Finally, the only papers that reported on Woodward's release from the hospital in November were The Times and The Herald. Read the follow ups in full below:

Los Angeles Herald, September 5 ,1906
Los Angeles Herald,
September 5 ,1906
Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1906
Los Angeles Times,
September 5, 1906
Los Angeles Times,
September 6, 1906
Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1906
Los Angeles Times,
September 7, 1906
Dr. Lawerence Lunt in his Harvard crew sweater
Dr. Lawerence Lunt as a student in his
Harvard crew sweater. Lunt and RSW first
became friends when Lunt was a medical
student at Harvard and RSW an art student
at the Museum of Fine Arts School, Boston.

FACT & FICTION: Sorting it out

All of the initial newspaper articles reported he was about to or in the act of cleaning his gun. Does this make sense? There is no immediate need to clean the gun. It can be cleaned at a later time. It would surely be more important to get cleaned up and put on a fresh change of clothes for the day. The first thing he needed to do was get undressed. All of the newspapers overlook the obvious. Furthermore, was he even in the room long enough to be cleaning his gun? Two of the newspaper accounts reported it happened shortly after leaving the others - within a minute or so. This means there is a critical piece to this story missing from the newspapers. What caused the accidental discharge of his revolver?

The answer comes from Woodward's very close friend Dr. Lawrence Lunt. in a letter to be given to Woodward's benefactor and our website's founder Dr. Mark Purinton by Lunt's son after Lunt's death. It is just one sentence and it reads, "He had a revolver in a shoulder holster, and in stripping off his sweater cocked the gun, and it went off severing his spinal cord." Woodward only had enough time to do one or two things before even getting to his revolver. After possibly emptying his pockets of its contents - coins, his watch, wallet and ticket stubs from the trip - he then walked to his closet, sat down on a crate, or footlocker of some sort, to take off his boots. Next he would stand to pull off his sweater. He was not cleaning his gun. However, we know from the article in The Express that it is what his parents believed he was going to do.

Dr. Lunt's Bookplate by Wooward
Before he was a landscape
painter, RSW was a commercial artist
making illustrations and heraldic devices
such as this bookplate for Dr. Lunt

Dr. Lunt died (July 27, 1968) just over 11 years after Woodward. We believe Lunt withheld the letter until after his own death as a matter of professional ethics. As a psychiatrist, he was professionally obligated to protect the privacy of his clients. He was not required to protect Woodward's privacy after his death but for Lunt's own reasons waited until after he himself had passed. There is no official record of Woodward ever seeing Lunt as a client, however, this letter suggests there was some overlap between their friendship and that Dr. Lunt, at times, provided Woodward with therapeutic care. Dr. Lunt was introduced to Woodward by a distant cousin (by-law) Joseph Cowell who is a friend of all three of the young men involved in the accident.

There is also no other record of Woodward ever telling anyone the truth in regard to the true cause of his accident. He disliked even being asked about it. In fact, two newspaper profile features published in the 1920's where the reporters interviewed Woodward himself, cited his disability was the result of a hunting accident (1920, Boston Evening Transcript, and 1928, Springfield Union). Another very close friend, F. Earl Williams told, in a letter to the Deerfield Academy's American Studies Group, that Woodward was injured by a shotgun. Woodward told his Boston art dealer, S. Morton Vose he was injured, "... as a student at college in California (I believe it was Leland Stanford) while he and a friend were prospecting in the desert. He carried a pistol (loaded) in his jacket pocket, and on becoming warm, took it off and threw it on the ground. The gun went off, severing his spinal cord."

If there is anyone Woodward would tell and trust his story not be gossiped about, it would be Dr. Lunt. But let's also not forget, Lunt knows Joseph Cowell. Cowell was not only a classmate of Woodward's at the Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, IL for nearly three years prior to Woodward's accident, but would also later volunteer to room with and care for Woodward at the Museum of Fine Art School in Boston, where the two were students in 1910. It was Cowell that appealed to his cousin Boston Socialite, Mary "Minnie" Eliot, to help raise funds for Woodward to go to Boston. It was Minnie who would turn to her cousin Lawrence, a Harvard medical student at the time, to join the effort. Together the three would surely have known the story. It could very well be that Lunt knew the story before ever meeting Woodward. Cowell would also have heard the details of the story from their mutual friends, Victor West and Fred Bourland.

Graphic showing the sweater trajectory concept.
Graphic showing the sweater
trajectory concept. The graphic also high-
lights in red the area between his chest and waist
now considered the area his paralyisis begins.

The additional piece of information regarding the sweater may be the closest we ever get to the truth, but it fits. It is the one item that can tie all of the known, yet disparate, information together. It is not that much of a reach when you piece what is known with what is unknown. It answers: (1) why he was found by his closet; (2) how the muzzle was facing him and pointing down; (3) and why the bullet entered his left breast and then took a downward trajectory. We are not Crime Scene Investigators and so we will not postulate to you more than we must. He went to his room to undress and maybe clean and put away his gun. Unfortunately, he simply did not get that far. The only information missing is why was he wearing a sweater over the holster? This is where we took some liberties in our story - We theorize he pulled it over his shirt and holster sometime during the morning journey which was unseasonably cooler than expected. We speculate that the mostly likely time would have been after the hike from Mount Wilson and before he gets on the trolley.

We spoke to a number of people knowledgeable about the only two 32-caliber revolvers available at the time of the accident (both Colt and Smith & Wesson made .32s). They all agreed that the hammer, even partially pulled from its resting position could have enough spring action to discharge the weapon. At that time, revolvers were double action meaning you had to cock the hammer, then pull the trigger. However, the revolver had only two locked settings. You could either draw the hammer back half-way to lock it (half-cocked) or all the way back. Anything in between those two settings would release the hammer automatically without pulling the trigger. Whether Woodward freed the hammer himself or it broke free on it own remains unknown. What is more difficult to determine is the style of holster he used. There are just too many styles available to narrow it down. All we can say for certain is the holster was a shoulder style and not a waist belt.

We believe the trajectory was the result of, at the very least, his left arm being above his shoulder. This is what you would need to do to remove a sweater. But did he simply pull his arms up in one motion to remove the sweater and it fired? Or did he first realize the gun was snagged on something? If so, Woodward would probably have raised his arm higher to get a better view of the problem. We believe it would be most peoples' instinctual response to get a better look. The question is, did raising his arm higher release it from its obstruction or did he struggle with it first? We have no answer for either of these scenarios and it is why our story leaves it to the imagination. However, we feel that it is mostly likely he pulled the sweater off in one clean movement and that discharged the gun. He never saw it coming.

An old photograph of Mount San Antonio
An old photograph of Mount San Antonio
nicknamed "Old Baldy" by locals from Mount Wilson.

In researching the typical weather conditions on Mount Wilson, two things stood out, (1) The average low temperature for that time of the year is around 50F degrees. Not too cold but also not warm. This night is believed to be even colder than normal but we could not find a specific temperature. We could only guess. (2) We could not find a picture of the San Gabriel Mountains from that time period that did not show its ridge line above a misty cover of low hanging clouds. This is most likely due to the temperature differences between the mountains and warmer basin air below. Los Angeles is to the southeast. So upon descending the mountain the boys would would be riding on open trolley cars in that mist. We have also learned that there was a fog that morning that would not clear until much later. If you have ever traveled through a mist like that, the pocketed air is much cooler than even the normal temperatures around it. This is the reason we attribute Woodward having his sweater on over his shirt and holster. He pulled the sweater on later, sometime between the beginning of their hike and before the descent down the mountain.

1900 photograph of the Sierra Madre Trail, Mount Wilson
1900 photograph of the Sierra Madre Trail, Mount Wilson

Furthermore, after extensive research, we have concluded the boys could have only reached Los Angeles before 8:00 a.m. via the Mt. Lowe Railway. The hike down Mt. Wilson would be just over 5 miles long and on a narrow mule trail to its trail-head at Chantry Flat. Then they would have to trek another 6 miles to Azusa (CA) to catch a train from there. However, the Pasadena Pacific Railway only purchased that portion of the rail line from the Los Angeles Santa Fe Railroad the same year, and did not finish the conversion of the tracks to light rail until after October in 1906. So it is unlikely they could have taken that route. If they did, it would not get them to downtown LA until well after the 8:00 a.m. timetable. We do not know exactly why the boys had to be back Labor Day morning but we assume, since they all worked for Orion at Briggs, that there was party or picnic they were invited to by a client. It is also worth noting that there would be a parade that day beginning at 10:00 a.m. just blocks from their location. The Los Angeles papers report that it is the biggest parade of the year. So it could also be that they simply wanted to get to downtown before the parade clogged the streets and trolleys.

Mount Wilson Trail today
Mount Wilson Trail today

We did take some dramatic license with the account of the event itself. For instance, it is completely unknown to us what time the boys woke to start their day. We reasonably tried to form a timeline that would match the time of arrival at the Castle Craig Hotel. Our best guess is the boys woke at roughly between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. in order to get to the Alpine Tavern by 5:30 a.m. It would take them some time to pack in the dark, even if they had already prepped the night before. The hike would take at least an hour and twenty minutes. It is confirmed that the moon was full and waning just past its peak. There were two known camps sites on Mount Wilson at the time of the accident. We do not know if the boys stayed in one of the camps or ventured out on their own. It is also unknown if the boys rented or had their own tents or if they shared a single tent.

Events at the hotel apartment are taken from the newspaper accounts and sprinkled with a lot of embellishment. We have no idea if Fred was the lodger (from the Sept. 4 Herald and Daily Progress articles) who ran to the police headquarters three blocks away. It simply made a convenient addition to the drama. The lodger is never named in the newspapers. Having Fred Bourland be the lodger is a complete indulgence on Brian's part. What's more is from all accounts we can find, telephones in hotels would be placed in communal areas, like the lobby, and even that is questionable. We do believe the office, at the very least, probably had a telephone. We cannot say with any certainty whether Woodward's father Orion had run to the hotel office to call for the police or Dr. Walrath. Or if he went directly to his office by town hall (across the way from police headquarters) to collect him. Maybe this is what prompted Fred (we imagine) to run to the police station. He saw Orion running in that direction and followed. He then caught up to Orion and was directed by him to get the police ambulance? We leave the telephone completely out of our story. Only one article cites a telephone. Another references or alludes to Orion "calling" for emergency help and that could mean any number of things. Including standing on the street screaming bloody murder. Could it be that this is what drew the attention of Dr. Walrath? There is simply no telling.

Mount Lowe Advertisement
Mount Lowe Advertisement

It is also not clear if the boys paid for their passage on the Mt. Lowe Railway or if their tickets were complimentary. Woodward's father, a land developer for the Briggs Realty Company, does have a standing relationship with the owners of the railway. Three weeks prior to Labor Day weekend, the family attended the opening of the Balboa Pavilion Recreational Area in Long Beach, CA. Balboa, along with the Huntington Park neighborhood in LA, the Huntington Beach area and Redondo Beach areas were all developed by the owner of the Pasadena Pacific Electric Railway, Henry Edward Huntington.

O.L. and Mary Woodward in front of the Balboa Hotel, Long Beach, CA
O.L. and Mary Woodward in front of the
Balboa Hotel, Long Beach, CA, just 3 weeks
before the tragic accident. The Balboa
Recreation area was developed by the
investors of the Pacific Electric Railway.

Coincidentally, of the three addresses we have for the Woodwards in LA, one is in the Huntington Park area and another is Redondo Beach. The trip itself was quite expensive even for this time. Its round trip price of $2.50 in today's dollar is $65.00. For perspective, a ride on the Metro North Railway from New Haven, CT, to New York City (more than twice the distance) today cost $40.00. It is not the cost per se. We believe the boys could have splurged their own money but it is equally as likely the tickets were a gift from Huntington or another investor of Pacific Electric to Orion.

We have confirmed to our satisfaction that Los Angeles did not have motorized ambulances yet. All newspaper accounts of the use of ambulances from the time period are horse-drawn. The motorized ambulance was invented in Chicago in 1899. New York City did not get their first motorized ambulance until 1901 and the first manufacturer of motorized ambulances was founded in Rochester, NY in 1902. In fact, the Los Angeles Herald published a full-page feature in an April, 1906 issue about the U.S. Army experimenting with the new invention of the "Automobile Ambulance." Woodward was taken in a horse drawn ambulance. We also make the assumption Mary went with young Rob to the hospital because she is not mentioned in the Herald article. It also seems reasonable to assume the mother would go with her son and the father would stay behind and answer the questions of the investigating officer, Chief Auble.

Good Samaritan Hospital around 1940's
Good Samaritan Hospital around 1940's

POST ACCIDENT: Recovery and Beyond

Mount Wilson Trail today
Above: The Los Angeles Herald
November 3, 1906

Below: The Los Angeles Times
November 3, 1906
Mount Wilson Trail today

Woodward would be released from the hospital on November 2, 1906, just a day shy of two months to the day of the accident. His recovery as described in the Los Angeles Herald, " considered remarkable by surgeons, for rarely in the annals of surgery has an entire recovery from such a wound been known." Both the Herald and Los Angeles Times have vastly differing takes on the future for Woodward. The Herald claims, "Except for a slight paralysis affecting his legs, Woodward is apparently as well as before the accident occurred. This paralysis of the legs is said by the surgeons to be due more from bodily weakness than from actual paralysis, and it is believed that he will soon have the use of his limbs." The Times is more sobering, " Woodward, while paralyzed in his limbs, is comparatively strong and alert. There is hope that he will regain the use of his legs. His recovery is considered remarkable."

Woodward had continued to hope the use of his legs would return immediately following his release, but by May of 1907, it becomes clear he is coming to the realization that this will most likely never happen. In late August, nearing the one year anniversary of the accident, he writes his friend Helen Ives Schermerhorn, "In health, I'm as well now as one ever need be, who does not walk. Should I never walk, - probably live as long as anyone - but that's what's worrying me. So please do not expect me ever to again give information concerning my health - I'm sick to insanity of health and health-gaining. Should there be a change in the way of feeling or locomotion, I will mention it. I'm so well, Helen, that we from now on, are to have a nurse only for the mornings work of a couple of hours"

Woodward would need the care of a nurse for the remainder of his life to flush his intestinal system and exercise his atrophying muscles. He would also be susceptible to ailments such as urinary tract infections and stomach/digestive problems. He endured chronic pain as the result of phantom sensations that persisted. Part of those symptoms included involuntary twitching of his limbs which he would complain to Helen made doing delicate detailed work difficult. He also tells Helen he was told securing the limbs down was not advisable.

What is great about Woodward's letters to Helen during this period is the insight they provide as to his state of mind. You already get the sense he is sick of people's pity or sadness. He simply wants to accept his new circumstances, leave the past behind and move forward. Eight months after his release from the hospital he completes his first known creative endeavor, a "self-published" booklet The Love Leaf. At eleven months we learn somewhat about his self-sufficiency, he writes, "Yes I come up and down my flight alone, go to the park - a few blocks off alone, change my upper clothes alone when necessary - in fact do everything alone but go up and down steps and curbings, which I guess will always be impossible." By 1908 he is doing work as a commercial artist, making bookplates for clients and crafting inspirational illumintations to sell. He also tells Helen in letters about helping his mother with gardening and playing tag in the street with local kids. Sometime between 1908 and May of 1910, he moves out of his parents home and is living on his own in Redondo Township, CA.

Woodward would also need an attendant to lift and carry him and... do for him the things he can not do himself. However, if he could perform a task it was his preference to do what can when he can. Woodward is at his core a vigorous and rugged individual. This may have been the greatest personal loss of the tragic accident - his loss of self-determination and sufficiency. For the rest of his life he would be dependent on others' assistance. He could and did harness his own horse and buggy and he loved nothing more than going out on his own cherishing the precious moments of independence and solitude. [This was not without mishap: for more you must read Morton Vose's account of one of these excursions!]

Woodward would spend three years in Los Angeles County before leaving for Boston in late summer of 1910. For all intents and purposes, he is very healthy and active not long after his accident. Victor West, still working for Woodward's father Orion, stays with him for nearly a year before returning to Illinois to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago. We do not know what becomes of his other friend Fred Bourland. Woodward's father's wish, since the death of his older brother Ory when he as eleven, was to follow his own footsteps and study engineering. Woodward never subscribed to his father's plan. He remained steadfast in his dream to study art at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston. Woodward would board a train for the three day journey to Boston. He is accompanied by his friend Joseph Cowell and is greeted upon arrival at the Fenway Station in Boston by Lawrence Lunt and his cousin Boston Socialite Mary "Minnie" Eliot.

West Lake Park painting Los Angeles 1908
West Lake Park painting Los Angeles 1908.
Woodward painted this oil painting two years after
his accident. West Lake park (now called MacArthur)
is a couple blocks from the Good Samaritan Hospital.


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