On May 2, 1964, tragedy struck at Memorial Stadium before the start of a Baltimore Orioles game. A 14-year-old girl died and a reported 46 other children were injured during an escalator accident. It would go down as the worst accident in Memorial Stadium history.
Jenny Phillips, my mother, was 12-years-old and in sixth grade at the time. She was at that game and one of the children injured.
“I always avoid escalators – even now,” the 67-year-old grandmother, a retired school teacher, and part-time babysitter said in an interview.
The Orioles were hosting “Safety Patrol Day” at the park to honor kids who helped others travel to and from school safely. Around 20,000 children from all across the state of Maryland were invited to the game for free.
“I took a bus from Brunswick Elementary School and sat with my close friend Debbie. The bus was full of kids and parent volunteers excited to go to the game,” Jenny said. “We had to have a signed permission slip from our parents to go.”
After a 90-minute trip, the bus pulled up to the stadium and dropped the kids off. Names were checked and the Frederick County students filed as a group towards the entrance. Their tickets were torn by an attendant. So many kids attended, Orioles management decided to open the upper deck at game time. The kids jumped onto the escalator.
Debbie went to the left half of the step and Jenny the right. The national anthem began playing.
“The first thing I noticed, for some reason, was that there was a ton of people on the escalator,” Jenny said. “It was a little more than usual. Then as it kept moving, kids started falling backward onto each other. It happened so fast. There was screaming. I got pushed hard to the right against the escalator and my ankle was scraping against the side. Luckily, I wasn’t totally backward like the other kids.”
At the top of the escalator, a gate called a “people channeler” had been left by accident from a previous event and blocked the children from getting off quickly. The narrow gate only let one person pass through at a time. The gate helped control the flow of people to safely go down the escalator the previous night but did the opposite the next day.
A stadium usher eventually hit the escalator’s emergency shut-off switch as kids were mangled by the moving steel.
“Because of the adrenaline, I didn’t feel any pain until the escalator had stopped and officials started getting us off the escalator,” Jenny said. “I looked down. I had sneakers on. I saw my sock was really torn in places. I pushed it back a bit and I saw it was bleeding and I knew something was wrong. I must have had some cuts or something.”
As the kids were lined up and checked out on the upper deck, they evaluated who was hurt and needed to go to the hospital.
“I didn’t say anything and shied away because I didn’t know how Daddy was going to pick me up from the hospital,” Jenny said. “I was scared to death. I thought he was going to be mad at me because I hurt my ankle bad.”
When Jenny got back on the bus, Debbie wasn’t there.
“I found out later she broke her one or both of her legs in several different places. Both of them were in casts,” Jenny said. “She was a tomboy and wasn’t a screamer. I thought oh my god, I could have been in her position. That could have been me.”
She also learned one of the children died as the parent counselors gossiped in front of her on the bus.
The escalator accident was reported on the radio so Jenny’s mom Ruby and dad John found out before she got home. “My mother and my sister Margaret looked at my ankle and talked amongst each other,” Jenny said. “Daddy decided to take me to Charlestown Hospital in West Virginia. I got an X-Ray on my ankle to make sure it wasn’t broken.”
She was one of the lucky ones to escape without serious injury.
Over the following days, the Orioles rounded up all of the names of the kids who were injured or affected by the escalator accident and sent them a letter. The Orioles gave all of the children team-signed baseballs from the 1964 team, two free tickets to a game of their choosing, and the opportunity to meet the players.
Jenny and her father John decided to go to the June 25, 1964, Orioles games against the New York Yankees. John was a huge fan of the Yankees. He had met many of the star Yankees players as a conductor on the B&O Railroad stationed in Brunswick. The conductor would check all the tickets and through that process, had met Micky Mantle and Roger Maris. Jenny remembered dad conducting trains carrying the teams of Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and Washington Senators to Baltimore.
That day the Orioles won 3-1. To kick off the game, Boog Powell hit his 16th home run of the season off Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton. In the second inning, Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson hit a home run of his own – his eighth of the year.
“I remember I heard this loud noise come from his bat and the ball went way up high,” Jenny said. “All the Orioles fans started jumping up and down and screaming because it was Brooksie. The ball went deep into center and right field. It might have gone into the upper deck. I was really impressed. ‘Wow, he hit that ball far,’ I remembered thinking.”
Jenny added, “At that moment, I became a big Orioles fan and Brooks Robinson became my favorite player.”
After the game, Jenny’s dad mentioned that they could meet the players including Brooks.
“I was really scared to do that,” Jenny said. “I was too shy to meet him.”
Over the years, she began regretting her decision. “Maybe I should have done it,” she said.
As the years passed, Jenny’s love for Brooks grew. She started listening to more and more Orioles games on the radio while her mom was sick. When she was a senior in high school, she started dating Dwayne Oland. Jenny and Dwayne would take John to Orioles games together because he loved baseball so much.
“Brooks just seemed like such a warm, genuine person,” Jenny said. “He’s never changed. He’s always been like that. And I never saw anyone field and catch the ball like him. In my opinion, he was the greatest fielder of all-time. He won 16 gold gloves!
“Sometimes there are just players that are different and special. Cal Ripken was like that too.”
On Wednesday, 55 years after Jenny passed on meeting Brooks Robinson at Memorial Stadium, I met Brooks for the first time at a dinner party benefitting The Laughlin Family Foundation. I introduced myself to the 82-year-old Hall of Famer and asked if I could tell him my mom’s story. He obliged and for several minutes he listened to me with compassion. Then he decided to do this for my mom.
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In 1964, my mom, who was 12, was one of 46 children injured in an escalator accident at the @orioles former ballpark, Memorial Stadium. One child died. Mom’s ankle was cut badly in several places. After the incident, the Orioles gave a signed baseball and free tickets to those hurt. On June 25, 1964, my mom went to see the Orioles play the Yankees. Orioles Hall of Famer, Brooks Robinson hit a home run in the second inning. After the game, she had an opportunity to meet Brooks but passed up the opportunity because she was “too shy.” She later began to regret her decision. 55 years later, I met Brooks, 82, at @thelaughlinfamilyfoundation dinner and told him this story. He filmed this video for my mother. 😢
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“Hi, Jenny. Brooks Robinson here. Sorry I missed you many years ago, but I want to say hello to ya and good luck and I hope our paths cross soon.”
Thursday, I showed my mother. She began crying.
“He’s so sweet,” she said. “I think that was a really nice thing he did. That brought everything full circle.”
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