Community pride, staged accidents save Cobb and Butler streets’ historic status

Eight cars collided at the intersection of Cobb and Butler streets in Green Lake last Friday, leading to an impromptu street party for neighborhood residents.

The wreck wasn’t deliberate- the four broken limbs, two concussions and ten cases of whiplash prove it- but this pileup was the first since the state Department of Historic Preservation restored the intersection’s status as the most dangerous in America, and Green Lake citizens are delighted that their one national claim to fame will live on.

“Accidents [at Cobb and Butler] are a town tradition,” said Bert McGreer, 34, a lifelong resident of the aptly-named Beaterville neighborhood. “It would have been awful to see them go.”

The spontaneous party drew hundreds of people, who ate, drank, cheered the accident victims and inadvertently blocked three ambulances from reaching the scene of the wreck for over two hours. Glenda Rundle, who by virtue of living at the corner is known as the “mayor” of Beaterville, explained the rituals of an accident party: “Obviously we call the authorities and check on the people in the cars first. Then we put on our Wreck Hats- they’ve got old car parts attached to ‘em- and greet each other on the street by bumping into each other. And in the summer, we roast kebobs on my Jaws of Life.”

Cobb and Butler streets were first paved in 1907, the first two auto-ready streets in Green Lake. Engineer Arvis Butler named the first street after himself and the second after his favorite baseball player, Ty Cobb. Butler, who was black, didn’t realize Cobb was a fervent racist until years later, eventually renaming the road Anyone but Cobb Street (though most, even Butler’s son Davis, still use the original name today).

But the streets soon became known for something other than their names, as the site where Leon C. Twindle became the first American to be run over by a car. And as cars became more prevalent, so did the accidents; in 1927, when Ford’s Model T was all the rage, Green Lakers were crashing almost hourly at Cobb and Butler. Miraculously, no one has ever been killed, but it’s been the site of thousands of accidents, and was officially named America’s most dangerous intersection by the state government in 1967.

That designation was in danger last month; thanks to the state’s budget crisis, Cobb and Butler’s preservation funding was on the chopping block. State House leader Marcus Redbanks told colleagues that “subsidizing their crummy driving is wrong… besides, there are dozens of places with more accidents now.”

In truth the intersection had slipped to eighth place in total number of accidents, but Rundle and her neighbors wouldn’t accept the end of their beloved danger zone. They hired students from Appleton State University to drive through the neighborhood on weekends, rightfully predicting they would get into plenty of accidents. Cars were purchased with money from donations and chocolate sales, with the leftover proceeds donated to drunk driving prevention.

After only six weeks, the college students had racked up nearly five hundred accidents, which put Cobb and Butler back in the lead. Legislators quickly restored funding, both to recognize the accomplishment and to put a stop to the accidents. To celebrate, Rundle hosted the largest wreck party in Green Lake history, with thousands bumping each other and celebrating well past sunup the next morning. “It was the best night of my life,” Rundle explained. “We saved our intersection, had a kick-butt party, and all we had to do was stage hundreds of car accidents and raise insurance premiums by 600 percent!”

Oddly enough, scientists have no explanation for the thousands of accidents at Cobb and Butler. “Visibility is fine, and the road is always well-maintained, so it ought to be safe,” says safety expert Lorena Unger. “Must be an ancient curse from when we drove the Egyptians off this land.”

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