Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, December 21, 2007

1886 Poem Representing Fictionalized Account of the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

Occasionally I have written about the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 that resulted in the death of Fireman Eugene Blake and injuries to several others including the train engineer, Riley Phillips. See:

Monday, September 24, 2007: The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

Tuesday, September 25, 2007: More About the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

Wednesday, September 26, 2007: The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 Continued . . .

Thursday, September 27, 2007: Findings of the Coroner's Inquest That Followed the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

It appears that shortly after the accident, a poem containing a fictionalized account of the incident by Alexander Anderson appeared in a book of Christian writings compiled by Donald MacLeod, D.D., one of Her Majesty's Chaplains for Scotland. The poem is transcribed below in its entirety, followed by a citation to its source.



SHORT is the story I say, if you will
Hear it, of Phillips at Pelhamville.

Driver was he for many a day
Over miles and miles of the double way.

Day and night, in all kinds of weather,
He and the engine he drave together.

I can fancy thhis Phillips as one in my mind
With little of speech to waste on his kind,

Always sharp and abrupt of tone,
Whether off duty or standing on,

With this firm belief in himself that he reckon'd
His duty first; all the rest was second.

Short is the story I say, if you will
Hear it, of Phillips at Pelhamville.

He was out that day, running sharp, for he knew
He must shunt ahead for a train overdue,

The South Express coming on behind
With the swing and rush of a mighty wind.

No need to say in this verse of mine
How accidents happen upon the line.

A rail lying wide to the gauge ahead,
A signal clear when it should be red;

An axle breaking, the tire of a wheel
Snapping off at a hidden flaw in the steel.

Enough. There were waggons piled up in the air
As if some giant had tossed them there.

Rails broken and bent like a willow wand,
And sleepers torn up through the ballast and sand.

The hiss of the steam was heard, as it rush'd
Through the safety-valves of the engine crush'd

Deep into the slpe, like a monster driven
To hide itself from the eye of heaven.

But where was Phillips? From underneath
The tender wheels with their grip of death

They drew him, scalded by steam and burn'd
By the engine fires as it overturn'd.

They laid him gently upon the slope,
Then knelt beside him with little of hope.

Though dying, he was the only one
Of them all that knew what ought to be done;

For his fading eye grew quick with a fear,
As if of some danger approaching near.

And it sought -- not the wreck of train that lay
Over the six and the four-feet way --

But down the track, for there hung on his mind
The South Express coming up behind.

And he half arose with a stifled groan,
While his voice had the same old ring in its tone,

'Signal the South Express!' he said
The fell back in the arms of his stoker, dead.

Short, as you see is this story of mine,
And of one more hero on the line.

For hero he was, though before his name
Goes forth no trumpet blast of fame,

Yet true to his duty, as steel to steel,
Was Phillips the driver of Pelhamville."

Source: Anderson, Alexander, Phillips of Pelhamville in MacLeod, Donald, D.D., ed., Good Words for 1886, p. 765 (London: Isbister and Company, 1886).

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