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In the early 1920s, cities like Baltimore (right) and St. Louis (left) erected elaborate temporary memorials to victims of motor vehicle crashes — mostly pedestrians, and often children. 

In the early 1920s, cities like Baltimore (right) and St. Louis (left) erected elaborate temporary memorials to victims of motor vehicle crashes — mostly pedestrians, and often children. 

Photo illustration by Stephanie Davidson

CityLab
Transportation

When Cities Made Monuments to Traffic Deaths

A century ago, cars killed pedestrians and cyclists in record numbers. As traffic deaths rise again, it’s time to remember how US cities once responded to this safety crisis. 

One hundred years ago, on Monday, June 12, 1922, the city of Baltimore formally honored local children who had been killed by motorists. Ahead of the ceremony, in the downtown Courthouse Plaza, organizers of the city’s “No Accident Week” erected a 25-foot-tall wood-and-plaster obelisk, designed by an architect and painted to resemble a monument of white marble. Inscribed on its face were these words: “Erected by the Citizens of Baltimore in Memory of the 130 Children Whose Lives Were Sacrificed by Accident during the year 1921.”

At noon, Mayor William F. Broening unveiled the temporary monument, which was decorated around its base with four plaster reliefs, each depicting lethal traffic disasters involving vehicles and children. After a dedication from the mayor, clergyman offered a formal benediction. Also participating, according to the Baltimore Sun, were delegations of schoolchildren, girl and boy scouts, the Women’s Civic League, and a church choir.