Did Walter Cronkite crash in the Smokies?

Walter Cronkite

In the late 1970s, U.S. 441, the highway that bisects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was being repaved. Given the high traffic on that road, the work was being done at night. I was there writing a story on that nocturnal paving operation, when one of the Park people mentioned that CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite had come down the Tennessee side of the road too fast and had wrecked his car. He suffered minor injuries in the accident.

I cannot find any references to that accident on the Web. Cronkite doesn’t mention it in his autobiography; the word “Tennessee” doesn’t appear once in the book.  The crash–if it happened–took place at a time when the foibles of the famous were not instantly trumpeted to a celebrity-crazed public.

2 Responses to Did Walter Cronkite crash in the Smokies?

  1. RockyRidgeRacing says:

    UPDATE Walter Cronkite, race car driver?
    Examiner.com., July 17, 2009
    By: Art Michalik

    In October 1959, Cronkite was competing in the “American International Rally” with navigator Stu Blodgett when the Triumph he was driving slid off the highway and into a river in rural Tennessee.
    The Oct. 15, 1959 edition of Athens, TN The Daily Post-Athenian reported the story: “A famed television and radio announcer from New York took an unexpected cold bath Wednesday morning about 2:30 in the waters of Ocoee River about seven miles east of Benton on Highway 64.”
    The story stated State Trooper M.E. Elliott said Cronkite, “not being familiar with the road, lost control of the automobile and went into the river.
    “Elliott said he was ‘fished out’ unhurt but wet and cold,” the story continued. “He was taken to the Hiwassee Grill and stayed the rest of the night. The trooper said the automobile was taken into Benton and fixed up for minor damages and the famed personality went on his way.”
    = = = = = = = = == = = =
    Actually, the TR3 had ingested water into the crankcase and suffered a main bearing failure about 40 miles further west, just outside of Cleveland, Tennessee, and Cronkite’s rally entry was done for. He spent the next night in Cleveland’s Cherokee Hotel before booking transportaion back to New York.

  2. Brad Blodgett says:

    The story is almost true. Blodgett and Cronkite worked through the night to get the car going again, after it was pulled from the river. One of the helpers was to replace the engine oil, but only checked the dip stick which showed no oil. So they added more oil but never checked it again. The motor was started and the guys went on with hopes of competing. However the water in the crankcase had displaced the oil and the engine froze up, removing them from competition.
    I met the plane when my father Stewart and Walter returned.

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