Seaside City’s Day Of Joy Is Turned To One Of Horror In Twinkling Of An Eye —
Upper Deck of Great Municipal Auditorium Collapses Under Victorian Anniversary Throng of Merrymakers Hurling One Hundred and Seventy five Persons Into Splintered Abyss of Writhing Death While Shocked Thousands Watch
At the high noon of her holiday, with every street ablaze with flags of sister nations, lined with cheering thousands, and athrum with the tramp of marching feet and the blare of many bands, the city of Long Beach was, in the twinkling of an eye, turned yesterday into a scene of grief and horror by a disaster with few parallels in the history of great seaside resorts. Through the collapse of a section of the flooring on the upper deck of the pier leading to the municipal auditorium a score and a half a score again of happy celebrants of Empire Day were plunged into eternity, nearly 150 more were injured, two-thirds of that number seriously, and the remainder of the gala host of merrymakers in the name of Britain’s King turned to a wild-eyed, horror-stricken mob, lining the pit of death a hundred deep on every side yet powerless to help as their comrades and dear ones struggled and writhed their lives out in the ghastly death-funnel below them.
The accident occurred at the pier entrance to the Auditorium, where a programme commemorative of Empire Day was to have followed the pageant through the streets. Somewhere along the gala line of march a band in kilties played “God Save the King.” For a thousand feet the eager multitudes marked time and timbers creaked from the vibrant stir of restless feet. It was 11:30 o’clock a.m. and the sun blared down a wine of welcome. At a signal the doors were opened and the tide of visitors swept toward the waiting portals.
For twenty minutes they had waited their opportunity and now they surged in a restless crush toward the open threshold. There was a rendering crash as overloaded timbers gave way and 175 people plunged twenty-five feet down.
Stilled In Death—Like a cloud that blots the sun and will not let it shine again, the hand of Death had overshadowed the largest celebration Long Beach had ever known. It was as if a world had been dependent on one star for light and that dim orb had suddenly swum from out of sight into the bleak abysmal chasm of interstellar space.
Outside the gold of sunlight still splashed upon the blue of a quiet sea, the little waves lapped softly on the warm sands and ran back to the ocean mother’s breast like children in their play, but no eye saw the sun was bright or that the waves were glad. The pall, the gloom, the silence, and the numb despair of dire calamity was on the multitude. They swayed with the awe of it, stood rapt and dazed in the stark presence, and smothered with the sobs that choked back without voice.
Later the people would find the blessing of tears. Later there would come to them the comfort which in time softens through the grief-crushed heart and storm-blinded brain, but at the first horror of realization, for the few nearest to the appalling pit, there was only action and for the staggered, hurt multitudes without the ropes nothing was possible but to question and wait. All of them shared that shock which holds the very breath in thrall and not any man knew if his own beloved lay in death below, nor any one dared put in words the terror that lay upon his heart.
Perhaps the agony of waiting was no less poignant through Los Angeles and all the cities of Southern California. News of the disaster quivered over the singing wires in a thousand directions the moment after it occurred. There are 40,000 subjects and former subjects of Great Britain in Los Angeles county. Fifty thousand people had gone to Long Beach yesterday to celebrate the ninety-sixth anniversary of the birth of Victoria, their best loved Queen. Wherever the news of this swift tragedy spread there were those to learn it who knew that members of their own family had gone by the sea to witness the big parade and enjoy the bright programme. There was a wild rush for Long Beach to secure the pitiful list of the partially-identified dead and of the injured...
At The Pit’s Edge—Exactly how the moment of peril was precipitated and just what occurred before and after the crash of death is perhaps not clear to anyone... It was 11:33 o:clock a.m. and at that moment the treacherous timbers snapped and a section of the floor of the upper pier, about 25x36 feet, snapped and precipitated the crowd to the floor below. This floor likewise gave way, although for a somewhat smaller space, and the fall to death was extended another ten feet...
In The Funnel—Around the edges of the ghastly precipice the people stood, stunned. When the first cry of distress and pain arose from those who were sinking helplessly to injury and death, there was an instinctive shrinking back on the part of the multitudes. This unaccountable psychology which become a pregnant fact of every accident, was undoubtedly the salvation of many lives because in the reaction which followed, many persons pressed too near the danger mark and were hurled by the surging throng behind them into the seething maelstrom of death at their feet.
In spite of the black tragedy of the day, some good angel must have mercifully blinded the people to the grief that had come that had come upon their troubled hearts, for their was no panic, no hysteria, no ungentleness at a time when a little lack of caution might have doubled and trebled the heavy death roll already visited upon them. The people did not know this, but there was a sort of patience of tragedy which held them in a firm leash of wisdom and so made the rescue work swifter and of better effect...
Flags Half-Masted—That is one picture out of a hundred which wrung the heart of Long Beach yesterday and which hung quivering at half-mast above the City Hall... Many of those killed and injured were very old people or children who could not secure positions for good views of the parade, and they went early to the door of the Auditorium that they might be the first to enter... Long Beach officials were prostrate in spirit over the tragedy...
—Los Angeles Sunday Times, May 25, 1913