Route 66 in the 21st century is a destination, America’s longest theme park. It is a magical place where the neon glows bright. Every day on the road is an endless opportunity for the making of delightful memories and for living out the little tune about getting your kicks on Route 66 immortalized by crooner Nat King Cole.
In spite of the cheerful songs, the laughter inducing adventures of Desi and Lucy that played out on television as they motored west to California, and the odysseys of Todd and Buzz, Route 66 in the era before it was replaced by the interstate highway system had a very dark reputation. It was known as “Bloody 66” and for good reason. Narrow antiquated roadways without shoulders, even narrower bridges, blind curves, steep grades that tested brakes, and an ever increasing flow of traffic was a recipe for disaster on a daily basis. In 1956 a study commissioned by the state of Arizona found that more than 60% of all fatal accidents in the state took place on Route 66.
Daily, headlines and stories in newspapers throughout the country chronicled the mayhem and the carnage.
May 30, 1957, Decatur Daily Review, Cuba, Missouri – “A highway intersection crash killed seven persons today in central Missouri’s worst highway accident in more than 10 years. Five others were injured. One car pulled onto U.S. Highway 66 from Missouri Highway 19 and was rammed by another car in which five members of a suburban Chicago family were headed west on Route 66. The intersection on the outskirts of this east central Missouri town is marked by a blinker signal, with traffic on the federal highway having right of way. Mrs. Marjorie Parson, 30 of Melrose Park, Illinois, died after the crash in a hospital in nearby Rolla, Missouri. Killed in the Missouri car were Henry Allison, 49, his wife, Ethelyn; Clarence Byars, about 70, and his wife, May Elizabeth, all of Auxvasse, Missouri; and Sam Watts, about 70, and his wife, Sue, both of Mexico, Missouri. Mrs. Byars was a sister of Mrs. Watts and the mother of Mrs. Allison. Gerald Parson, 36, of Melrose Park, husband of one victim and driver of their car, was quoted by police as saying “the car just jumped out in front of me – I didn’t see it in time.” The PARSON car left skid marks for a short distance to the point of impact. It apparently struck the side of the Missouri car. Parson was reported in serious condition and his daughter, Sandra, 8, in critical condition at a Rolla hospital. Less seriously injured were two more Parson children, Jenny, 6, and Jerry, 4, and Billy Jo Allison, only survivor in the Missouri car.”
Tom Pasley of the Missouri State Highway Patrol recalled a few incidents from his years spent patrolling U.S. 66 in the Ozark Mountains. After receiving a call about a wreck near the T & T Restaurant in Doolittle, he set out at high speed to investigate. “It was early in the morning, and I looked all over. I called in and said, “There’s no wreck out here,” and they said, “There’s got to be a wreck out there. There used to be a little old church that sat down here, and after passing by it a few times thought the church looked a little funny. These soldiers had run across the intersection, and they were sitting in their car, inside the church, up against the pulpit, drunker than hell. They had driven clear inside.”
Photos courtesy the Joe Sonderman collection
To read more of this story become a supporter of our crowdfunding initiative. For as little as $1, $2, or $5 you can lend support to our various promotional projects and have access to exclusive content.