The Eads School Bus Tragedy of 1941: A Survivor's Story

Way back in our February 2004 issue, I told about the horrible Eads school bus tragedy that took place on October 10, 1941, right at the very spot shown in this photo. Though they were pulled up years ago, in 1941 railroad tracks ran straight towards the viewer, and this now-peaceful scene was the site of the greatest disaster in the history of Shelby County Schools.

A school bus carrying students home from the George R. James School came down the hill at the far right in this photo, turned and and crossed the tracks here — right into the path of a locomotive heading towards Memphis at 50 miles per hour. Killed that day were the bus driver, Benjamin Priddy, and seven students: Guy Anderson Jr., Hayden Austin Williams, Norma Jean Seward, Melvin Richmond, Murry Kenneth Bryan, Alma Sherrill, and Glenn Sherrill. Dozens of others were horribly injured.

In our May issue (on newsstands now), I did a follow-up column on this event, focusing on the actual school that these children attended (since demolished after a fire). And as a way to lure readers to the story, I posted something about it on my Facebook page, and for an illustration included a photograph of the gravestone of one of the victims, that of 8-year-old Melvin Richmond, who is buried just a few hundred feet from the site of the accident, in a little cemetery that is barely visible at the extreme far left of the photo.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when one of my Facebook friends, Linda Richmond Hill, sent me this message: "That tombstone is that of my uncle! His nickname was 'Tootsie' and he was just a little over a year younger than my dad. Daddy was one of the survivors of that wreck as well as being one of the worst injured of the children. He was in the dead children ambulance (which had to be sent from Memphis) when it caught on fire. Another ambulance had to be sent to Eads. Daddy was in a temporary morgue when a doctor discovered he was still breathing!

What an amazing story. Among other things, I couldn't believe that, after all that these children had already gone through that day, the ambulance even caught on fire!

I contacted Linda and asked if her father ever talked about the accident. This is what she told me:

"Yes, Daddy talked about it. I remember looking at his scars, especially the one on his back. It stretched from his left shoulder to the right and all the way down his back. He also had a scar above his left eye from hitting the metal bus seat. When I was a little girl Daddy began seeing a chiropractor for his back pain. Many adjustments later, and having been told that one of his legs was longer than the other, my mother convinced him to get another opinion. He did see a specialist, who x-rayed his spine and hips and discovered his left hip had been broken and not healed properly.

"After the accident, he was in a coma and woke up to broken jaws as well as other injuries and found out about my baby brother's death [that would be Melvin 'Tootsie' Richmond.] We saw the site of the wreck many times because my relatives lived in Eads until just the past few years. There is a park dedicated to the kids right there by the tracks. Daddy missed the ceremony because he was in the hospital after appendix surgery. My family did attend, however.

"My mother's first cousin, Austin Williams, was also killed in the wreck. Austin's parents — my mother's aunt and uncle — stayed in Eads for a while after the wreck and it was while visiting them that my mother met my father. They were married for almost 38 years before Daddy died in 1987. He was 58 years old. Mother died five years ago.

"By the way, Daddy always said that he didn't blame Mr. Priddy, and that he most likely had a heart attack and never saw nor heard the train."

Finally, when I asked Linda if it was okay if I mentioned all this in my blog, she said it would be fine: "Thank you for writing about the wreck. The story of it and the devastation it caused has been a part of our family history and needed to be shared."

By the way, Linda Mary Richmond, another member of this family, posted additional details about the accident and the fate of her uncle the Richmond brothers on the popular Find A Grave website. Go here to learn more, but fair warning — some of the details are rather gruesome.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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