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Eleven-year-old Maria Smolka took the trolley to downtown Elmira, New York on Friday, June 13, 1930. In her hand, she carried a basket of candy that she wanted to sell to office people. Maria had bright eyes and a big smile, and everybody like her. After an afternoon of candy selling, she thought about her early evening piano lesson. Maria had an upcoming piano recital and had scheduled extra lessons that week in preparation. She wanted her piece to be perfect.
At the corner of Main and Water Streets, a new building for the Gorton Coy department store was under construction, and a tunnel-like wooden structure was built over the cement sidewalk to protect passersby from injury.
At 4:45PM, during rush hour traffic, the cement sidewalk and the wooden structure collapsed, sending more that 20 people into the excavated pit on the west side of the project.
An hour later, little Maria’s broken body was found beneath a sidewalk block. She had died instantly. Mrs. Effie Corey suffered a fractured skull and died the next day. Injuries to other pedestrians ranged from broken bones to cuts and bruises.
Officer Carroll was on patrol about 20 feet away when he heard the creaking of timbers and saw the enclosure fall into the pit. Lee Hee, a chef at Cipriano’s Restaurant, was halfway through the tunnel when the crash came.
Witnesses speculated that the piling of large bundles of steel rods on top of the enclosure, and the weakened gravel foundation may have precipitated the collapse.
Maria Smolka had lived at 222 Elmwood Avenue and was in the fifth grade at School One in Elmira Heights. She loved to play piano. Her parents had had fifteen children, and Maria was the tenth of their children to die.