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  • Writer's pictureMarta Driscoll

Babe Ruth Almost Lost it all in Chester Heights - 100 Years Ago

On July 7th, 1920 in the early morning hours traveling on US Route 1 from Washington to New York through what is now Chester Heights, a "well-lubricated" Babe Ruth driving his brand new Packard at a fair clip flipped it onto its roof.

The injured Ruth and company walked a few hundred yards to the historic Chamberlain- Pennell house where the owners Mr. and Mrs. Coates Coleman recognized him and tended to his injuries. Ruth and his traveling party are said to have left around 5:00am catching the 5:34am train to Philadelphia. all stories of legends, the details of the accident vary slightly in each retelling.

Here are a few versions of this story.

An original from the Sacramento Union the day after the accident July 8th, 1920 - Volume 215 No. 8.

Original article that appeared the day after Babe Ruth's accident in what is not Chester Heights, PA
Babe Ruth Injured in Auto Accident -Sacramento Union, Volume 215, Number 8, 8 July 1920

"...he had turned out of the road to make way for a car approaching rapidly and his car went into the ditch. It overturned and the occupants were pinned underneath. Ruth by herculean effort tipped the car sufficiently to permit his wife and the three ballplayers to crawl out. They in turn lifted the car so that Ruth was able to escape."

This biography mentions the incident on page 231 with a very different account of the accident than the original Sacramento Union article. "..the road curved sharply. Babe was driving much too fast and could not make the curve. He hit the brakes, the car skidded, spun off the road and turned over. "

" The five of them walked half a mile down the road to a farmhouse where they were able to spend the night."

The farmhouse turns out to be Hill in Skye built in circa 1722 by John Chamberlain. A Chester Heights residence on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.

Pages 121 & 122

The story describes the accident in Wawa, Pennsylvania, but incorrectly identifies the month as June rather than July.

The traveling companions seem to be consistent across the stories and include his wife Helen, catcher Fred Hofmann, outfielder Frank Fleich and third base coach Charlie O'Leary.

There he also shared the January 29th, 1997 article from the inquirer archives seen below.

The front page of the Inquirer spors section from January 29, 1997 featured this story on Coates Coleman and Babe Ruth.
The night a legend touched Delaware County

Thank you to Mr. Bernie Miller for bringing this bit of local history to our attention.

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