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Dead man driving: a Halloween news story from 58 years ago

Brad Williams



Anoka, Minnesota was holding its yearly children’s Halloween parade on October 31st of 1961, when an out-of-control car crashed on the parade route, killing two women and injuring more than 20 others at the event. Police determined that Otto Erickson, in his 70’s, had died of a heart attack behind the wheel while stopped for traffic. A reporter said the car motor gunned and went forward, striking parade marchers and spectators, before hitting a parked car and stopping near a mortuary. Lawsuits against the city of Anoka were heard in court for years after the accident.

Good news for employees of the Trane Company in La Crosse that Halloween. Trane and two unions settled a strike that had lasted two months. Twelve hundred workers had been on strike for pay raises and other benefits. The walkout ended a day before Trane was prepared to call employees back to work, at the risk that the workers might have to cross picket lines.

A guy named Durante got his 15 minutes of fame in October of ’61. Not Jimmy Durante, but 19-year-old truck driver Sal Durante. Yankees fan Sal became famous for catching the 61st home run hit by Roger Maris that year, breaking the old single-season record set by Babe Ruth. Sal was offered a $5000 check to present the ball to Maris, and was also invited to the Seattle Worlds Fair the next year. And, he was getting ready for his upcoming wedding in Brooklyn during Halloween week, 1961, yesterday in La Crosse.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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