We all have family stories. Some are peculiar and funny. Some romantic. Some frightening and dramatic.

Imagine one of the craziest things that happened to your family, a trying, scary time perhaps. Now imagine making that into a short movie.

Would you do it? Would anyone care if you did?

A New Jersey family found the answer to that question. “Deerwood Deathtrap” is a documentary short that not only is a wrapped and finished reality, it’s streaming at Sundance Film Festival this week and is coming soon, virtually, to the New Jersey Film Festival.

It’s the story of Betty and Jack Gannon who were in the car with their kids when they were struck by a train and somehow lived.

Talk about an anecdote that most families don’t have!

They were on their way to a family bungalow in Cape May County with their 4-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter plus Jack’s 70-year-old mother. Betty was driving. It was a route they had taken for many years. They always passed over railroad tracks that looked to be long abandoned. In all the times they made this trip they never once saw or heard a train. As they were driving they heard the faint sound but were assuming it was from something farther away.

All of a sudden to their horror they realized they were wrong. Betty planted the brakes right to the floor but this made their infant daughter fly off a seat. Remember this at a time when baby seats were brand new and would not even be required by law for many years to come. The maternal instinct in Betty distracted her and her foot came slightly off the brake as she turned to look at the baby. This was just enough to land the vehicle into the tracks.

A freight train hit them. Crushed metal, glass, blood, you name it. Yet somehow everyone in that car, even the baby, lived through the horror. There were injuries that had to be overcome, sure. But that wreck was 50 years ago in 1971. They all went on to heal and live happy lives.

And their son James Gannon decided to turn this family story into a short documentary. The parents, now both 80 years old, had major doubts. But it’s getting a lot of attention.

DEERWOODS DEATHTRAP - Trailer from James P. Gannon on Vimeo.

NJ.com’s Amy Kuperinsky did a great write-up on this, including an interesting part about how Jack and Betty now remember the events slightly differently. Small things, like whether the radio was off or on at the time.

But one thing is for sure. These are our New Jersey neighbors and this is an amazing story of theirs. Everyone in New Jersey has a tale to tell. What would your documentary be?

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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