The car accident that could have changed history

East76thstreetsignAt 10:30 p.m. on December 13, 1931, Winston Churchill was in a hurry.

In Manhattan on a lecture tour, the British statesman was late for a meeting with his friend, financier Bernard Baruch. Stepping into 76th Street, he made a potentially fatal mistake: He didn’t look both ways to see if a car was coming.

Unfortunately one was. The car dragged Churchill and then left him in the street.

ChurchillphotoThe accident scored him eight days in Lenox Hill Hospital with a gash to the head, among other injuries (they gave him a prescription for medicinal alcohol—it was Prohibition, after all).

Churchill admitted the accident was his fault and arranged to meet the driver of the car that hit him, a jobless immigrant named Mario Contasino.

“Mrs. Churchill, hearing of the ill fortune of Contasino in his quest for work, suggested her readiness to help him financially. But when a member of the party proffered a check Mr. Contasino declined it,” wrote The New York Times.

Churchill’s injuries weren’t life-threatening, obviously.

But if he was killed on Fifth Avenue, and didn’t return to England to serve as prime minister during World War II, perhaps history would have taken a different course?

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10 Responses to “The car accident that could have changed history”

  1. carolegill Says:

    Thank God he wasn’t killed. The world had two brilliant statesmen in Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at a most crucial and dangerous time. What a great post!
    What an incredible story.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I also love that he admitted he didn’t look both ways and was such a good sport about getting hit!

    • carolegill Says:

      true! He was so honest. Churchill travelled America as a young man and was impressed with the U.S. courts. He said a man could as easily be sentenced to death by a judge not wearing a wig as one who was wearing one..
      i’m paraphrasing, but it was really clever!

  3. chungwong Says:

    I have read that Churchill might have been hit possibly because he looked the wrong way – traffic in New York being in the opposite direction than England.

    • carolegill Says:

      so true, but I think he said (reportedly) he didn’t look either way.
      It is possible to get confused though as you point out.

  4. Keith Goldstein Says:

    Quite possibly, being English of course, he looked the wrong way.

  5. petey Says:

    can’t share the enthusiasm for churchill. he ran out on comrades in south africa, openly supported the use of biological weapons on kurds and arabs (his quotes on this topic are horrifying), suggested using machine guns on english strikers, thought a hitler-type might have to be found for england, and his attitude to the irish doesn’t need elaboration.

  6. carolegill Says:

    oh dear.

  7. Greg Laden Says:

    This was mild compared to the train he was on being derailed, then being shot at by lots of soldiers, then captured and imprisoned by the enemy, then escaping and then walking across half of the continent of Africa, behind enemy lines, alone without weapons, food, etc. etc.

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