Accident on the Road to Ravenna

In the spring of 1910 Bessie and William McKee were in Italy with their daughters Marjorie and Augustine. The family had traveled on the R.M.S. Carmania from New York to Naples, where they were met by their chauffeur, Kroh, who had sailed to Europe the week before, taking the McKees’ comfortable Simplex automobile with him. It was nine-year-old Augustine’s first trip to Europe, and she was very excited and enthusiastic. After three weeks of traveling slowly through Sicily to Rome and Perugia, however, they arrived in Ravenna tired, travel-weary, and bad-humored.

Two days earlier Kroh had announced that the car’s rear tire was in poor shape and he was afraid it was about to burst. They pressed on from Perugia to San Marino, however, and were on their way to Ravenna when the first misadventure occurred; on a remote road in the northern Italian countryside their car skidded into a deep ditch. Some local boys brought a team of white oxen to pull them out, “and with the aid of a lot of men and boys who pushed from the back, we pulled out. The steering was not bent, but it wasn’t very good for the tire,” wrote Augustine to Estelle Clements.  They continued their journey, tentatively, but further calamity awaited them just a few miles down the road.

The McKees’ Simplex, 1910

“We were sailing along when all of a sudden we heard the tire go, and we slowed down and stopped. Father and Kroh got out everything, but then found that they couldn’t possibly make the jack lift the car. So it ran along for about 3 miles, and then the tire came off entirely and lay alongside the road all cut into pieces. Well then we didn’t know what to do, but Father walked up to a turn on the road, and by whistling and waving his arms he finally got an old peasant to stop. He explained in his best Italian that a Madonna (he couldn’t think of the name for lady!) were in a tombé automobile, encore a bambino and a Miss, and he wanted him to take three persons into Ravenna.”

The only form of transport available, however, was a two-seated cart. And so, “…we attracted the attention of a big bicycle man and after a lot of talking on Sister’s part he seemed to understand that we wanted a jack and an automobile. Then he and the old man went, and [as we sat by the side of the road]Father told us about the Madonna and we laughed and laughed and then were silent, and listened to the frogs croak. It was pitch dark by the time the man finally came back with a cab and a jack, wonderful to say, so we went home in that… and that is the lengthy description of why we were not in a good humor when we got to the Hotel Byron.”