Samuel Spencer was killed at the age of 59. The accident that took his life happened in the predawn hours of Thanksgiving Day in 1906. Spencer and some of his friends were in Spencer’s private rail car headed for a hunting trip in Virginia. While Spencer and his fellow passengers were asleep, his railcar became uncoupled and coasted to a stop, alone on the railroad tracks. At that time, there was no way for the train that was on the tracks behind Spencer’s train to know that there was a stranded car immediately ahead. The trailing locomotive slammed into Spencer’s crippled car at full speed, crushing the car and killing all inside but one.
Spencer happened to be in a position to own a private railcar because he was the president of the Southern Railway Corporation….and not just any president. Samuel Spencer was much beloved by his employees because he had been responsible for the unprecedented growth that Southern experienced in the late 1800s.
At the time of his death over 30,000 Southern employees donated their own money to commission a statue of their leader. None of those 30,000 employees could have ever imagined that the statue they paid for would end up being what is perhaps the City of Atlanta’s most treasured work of public art. And that is why it is this week’s Stories of Atlanta.