At about 10:30 p.m. on December 13, 1931, Churchill was badly injured in a car accident in New York City. He had arrived in the United States two days earlier to embark on a North American lecture tour. After dinner that night he set out for the Fifth Avenue home of his friend Bernard Baruch, a ten minute drive from his hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria. Hailing a cab, Churchill realized that he did not know the house number. But he’d been there on his 1929 visit and was sure he would recognize it. He drove up and down for an hour without success. No house seemed familiar. Growing impatient, Churchill left the cab on the Central Park side between 76th and 77th streets. He intended to cross the road and then walk along the row of houses on that side until he found the most likely one. Churchill looked left and crossed safely to the middle of the avenue, which then had two-way traffic. Then he made the common mistake of Britons in America: he looked left again. Seeing nothing, he stepped into the road—where he was immediately struck by a car coming from the right at 35 mph. The driver, Mario Constasino saw the accident coming and slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. “I am going to be run down and probably killed,” Churchill thought. Then came the impact, a “concussion indescribably violent.” Churchill was hit by the car and slammed to the road. Traffic stopped and people rushed into the street. Churchill did not lose consciousness, but was flooded with “wave upon wave of convulsive, painful sensations.” He told a policeman who he was and emphasized that he was at fault and entirely to blame for the collision, not Constasino. A passing ambulance was occupied, so a cabbie laid him unceremoniously on the floor of his taxi and drove with the policeman to nearby Lenox Hill Hospital. During the drive, Churchill was alarmed at being unable to move his hands and feet. Before he reached the hospital, however, he felt “violent pins and needles” in his upper arms. Churchill did not mind as by then he could move his fingers again. He was amazed that he had not been “squashed like a gooseberry.” Considering that his friend Professor Lindemann later calculated that the crash was the equivalent of falling thirty feet onto pavement, Churchill could have been easily killed or permanently injured. He escaped with a concussion, large bruises on his right arm, chest, and leg, and contusions needing sutures on his forehead and nose. By December 16th he had recovered sufficiently to offer the Daily Mail in London a “literary gem” on how it feels to be run down by an automobile. Four days later Churchill received a visit from Constasino, a young truck driver from Yonkers, whom he presented with a signed copy of The Unknown War, the final volume of The World Crisis, which had recently been published by Scribners. Before Christmas he was released from the hospital to rest at his hotel and at the end of the month he left New York to complete his recovery in Nassau. Churchill returned to the United States and began his rescheduled lecture tour in late January.
The above post is excerpted from my article, “The Accidental Churchill: Mishaps, Tumbles and Narrow Escapes” that appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of The Churchillian: The Magazine of the National Churchill Museum. The full article is available at the National Churchill Museum web site.