• Brook Laguana

What Difference can a Penny Make?

How often are you aware, while it's happening, that this is the moment that will change the rest of your life? For Harry Cross, that moment happened 113 years ago, at 12:19 pm, when Mrs. Walsh gave her daughter a penny.

The Boston Globe Tue Oct 9, 1906

October 6, 1906: Things were going well for twenty-four year old Harry. He married an Irish gal who was, by all accounts, very beautiful and they had an infant son together. Harry worked as a motorman and drove a street car through the hectic roadways of Boston. In an instant, everything changed.

Postcard showing a 1906 streetcar in Boston. Published by J. Valentine, New York. Image from Wikipedia.

There were people everywhere, hurrying to lunch or to run errands. Boston's West Broadway was full of street cars, horse-drawn wagons, and a few automobiles. There were no cross walks, no street lights, and no stop signs. His street car was full, and the conductor was ringing the bell when he pulled up to the stop on B Street.

However on this day, four year old Helen Walsh was gleefully rushing down the sidewalk with her new penny on her way to buy a piece of candy. At the corner of B street and Broadway, little Helen ran out into the road.

Harry didn't see her until she was right in front of the car. He yelled for her to stop, he reversed the power and the street car rolled to a standstill, but not before Helen was struck and run over by the front wheels. Her little body was crushed and Helen was killed.

The Boston Globe Sat Oct 6, 1906

There were several witnesses, including two policemen, but it was a statement made by passenger, Frank Parisi, that resulted in the arrest of Harry Cross. "He was going at a high rate of speed," Parisi said. Harry was arrested and charged with manslaughter.

At the trial four witnesses, including two police officers, testified that Harry had done everything he could to stop his street car before it hit Helen. The charges were dropped. It wasn't his fault, but the damage was done. A little girl had lost her life and a man with a promising career could no longer stomach the work.

A person's entire life can change directions in a moment. Sometimes it's a big event, like a wedding, but sometimes all it takes it a penny.

All stories in the On My Desk blog are posted with the permission of my clients.

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