Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885: Another Account Published with a Diagram of the Aftermath of the Crash
I have written extensively about the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 that garnered national attention and even appeared on the cover of Scientific American with a description saying it was "One of the Most Novel in the Records of Railroad Disasters." For a few examples, see:
Mon., Sep. 24, 2007: The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Tue., Sep. 25, 2007: More About the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Wed., Sep. 26, 2007: The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 Continued . . .
Thu., Sep. 27, 2007: Findings of the Coroner's Inquest That Followed the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Fri., Dec. 21, 2007: 1886 Poem Representing Fictionalized Account of the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Wed., Jan. 9, 2008: The Aftermath of the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Fri., Jul. 15, 2011: Another Newspaper Account of The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885.
Thu., Apr. 02, 2009: Biographical Data and Photo of the Engineer of the Train that Wrecked in Pelhamville on December 27, 1885.
Bell, Blake A., The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885: "One of the Most Novel in the Records of Railroad Disasters, 80(1) The Westchester Historian, pp. 36-43 (2004).
Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an extensive account of the Pelhamville Train Wreck that appeared in the December 28, 1885 issue of the New York Herald and reproduces a diagram of the aftermath of the wreck. It then transcribes a further report on the accident that appeared in the same newspaper the following day.
"A HAIR-BREADTH ESCAPE.
Three Sleeping Cars Hung on the Verge of a High Embankment.
SMASH-UP ON THE NEW HAVEN ROAD.
The Engine and Mail Car Pitched Down Seventy Feet.
ONE MAN KILLED, MANY INJURED.
Peril of the Passengers -- Miss Thursby at a Death Scene -- A Wide Awake Boy.
A Boston express train had a marvellous [sic] escape from destruction yesterday morning on the New Haven road at Pelhamville station two miles this side of New Rochelle. The locomotive and the postal car were pitched down an embankment seventy or eighty feet high, and although the three following cars kept on the track, the three last, which were sleeping cars, literally hung over the edge. It was wonderful that they could come so near and yet not topple over. Superintendent W. A. Stevenson, of the New Haven road, said he knew of no such narrow escape in the annals of railroads.
Only one life was lost - that of the fireman. The engineer, several of the clerks in the postal car and many of the passengers were injured. The list of the principal sufferers is as follows:--
BLAKE, EUGENE, of New Haven, the fireman of the train.
PHILLIPS, RILEY, of New Haven, engineer of the train. Badly bruised on back and right side. He was taken to his home in New Haven.
TURNER, C.P., postal clerk, of Malden, Mass. Internally injured and bruised about the limbs and body. He was removed to the Grand Union Hotel, in this city.
HART, WILLIAM F., of Boston, a postal clerk. He was bruised about the limbs and body and was removed to the Grand Union Hotel, in this city.
CLARKE, E.E., of Haddam, Conn., a postal clerk. He received a severe scalp wound and an injury to his back. He was brought to this city.
CONATY,, PETER, of Worcester, Mass., a postal clerk. Back wrenched and severely bruised will resume his duties in a day or two.
McCOY, CHARLES,, of Putnam, a postal clerk. Cut on legs, arms and one hand, in addition to which he was severely bruised.
MITCHELL, CHARLES, of New York, a postal clerk. Burned about face, head and hands by the ashes and cinders from the heater in the car.
THAYER, STEPHEN, brakeman. Badly bruised about the head.
FRANK, _____, a member of the the firm of Frank & Weis of No. 339 Broadway. His right hand was badly cut in breaking a window pane.
RANDALL, CHARLES ADAMS, an engineer. He was severely cut and suffered greatly from exposure. He was taken to his home in New York.
The scene of the accident is the embankment extending toward New York from the Pelhamville station of the New Haven road. It is about half a mile long and twenty-five feet wide and its height in places is from seventy to eighty feet. It was at one of these high places that the accident occurred. The embankment carried the railroad across a valley, on one side of which a little creek flows. The sides of the valley are low, giving the wind an uninterrupted sweep for miles. The wind blew at a terrific rate on Saturday, and yesterday morning its violence had only slightly abated.
The station is a little two story frame building at the far end of the embankment. From ti ran for hone hundred feet toward New York a platform about four feet wide, built on posts. It had been there six or seven years. The accident was caused by this platform and the wind.
The train is known as the Springfield owl. It left Boston at half-past ten o'clock on Saturday night, and was composed of the locomotive, Boston and New York mail car No. 48, baggage car No. 54, smoking car No. 164, passenger coach No. 155, the Mann boudoir car Martha, No. 108, and the Boston and Albany sleeping cars Nos. 213 and 214. Behind it on the road at an interval of not more than ten minutes thundered the Adams Express Company's train, and after it had passed New Haven it was followed at a headway of thirty minutes by the Shore Line express from Boston.
The Springfield owl reached New Rochelle at nine minutes to six. There were then on board about ninety passengers including a dramatic company picked up at Bridgeport. In each of the three sleepers were about ten passengers. The train was three minutes late, but the road ahead was straight and down grade, and while the fireman, Eugene Blake, shovelled in coal, the engineer, Riley Phillips, as he expressed it, 'let her go for all she was worth.' Railroad men say that the high rate of speed was one of the things that saved the train.
Just as the Pelhamville station was reached the rays of the big headlight were obscured by a dense cloud of dust. Phillips could see nothing, but the next instant there was a terrific crunching of wood and the ponderous locomotive made a plunge. Then it jolted over the ties for a hundred feet, then whirled through the air with a violent jerk which flung the engine tender over the engine. Both came to rest at the bottom of the embankment, seventy feet below and ten feet from the ditch.
The jerk also threw the postal car from the track. It ran on another hundred feet, then also plunged headlong down the embankment. The baggage car had run againstd the mail car, when the latter left the track with such violence as to utterly destroy the platform. Yet its wheels remained on the track. The next two cars kept on the track, but the three sleepers were derailed. They ran along the ties nearly a train's length, their wheels ploughing in the hard frozen earth of the embankment furrows two feet deep. The wheels of the last sleeper ran over the edge, still cutting deep furrows, and gradually the car turned over on its side. It was the toss of a penny whether or not it would topple over, and if it had gone it would have dragged the others down. When it stopped half of its breadth was over the edge, and it was inclined at an angle of at least forty-five degrees. The next car, No. 213, was in only a little better position. What probably saved them was the Mann boudoir car. It is very heavy, and though the strain was terrific it held its position and anchored two other sleepers where they were. Had the coupling bar given way they would have fallen.
The accident had been caused by the wind. It had lifted the narrow platform, extending one hundred feet from the station, from the posts on which it was built and had turned it over on the track.
A SCENE OF TERROR.
All the lights went out as soon as the cars left the tracks, and the passengers in the sleepers found themselves tossed about in the darkness. As they and the train hands emerged they saw the blaze of the locomotive away down at the foot of the embankment. John C. Platt, the water boy on the train, got a lantern and scrambled down and dragged Engineer Phillips and Fireman Black out of the cab. One of Phillips' feet was in the furnace and his shoe was burned off. In a moment he opened his eyes.
'Has anyone gone to flag the train behind us?' was the first thing he said. Then, as the boy hesitated, he added, 'You go; leave me.'
The Adams Express train was only ten minutes behind and no one knew how quickly time might pass in the excitement of the accident. The engineer feared that the express might run into his train. Johnny Platt scampered away. Then the engineer nearly lost his life again. Attempting to rise he slipped down the steep incline into the ditch and was nearly frozen.
The passengers had meantime all go on their feet. Those in the coach and smoker easily got out, but the people in the sleepers had more trouble. In No. 213 several of them broke windows on the down side, and, dropping out, found themselves on the steep embankment. After the first alarm was over the colored porters reassured the passengers, but urged them to hurry in dressing as it was not known how soon the sleepers would roll over. One man did not wait to dress, but ran out into the cold air as he was and stood bundled in blankets till somebody found him his clothes. Another man went around swearing because he could not find his shirt collar. The passengers were taken into the station and supplied with hot coffee by the wife of the agent, C.H. Merritt.
SUFFERERS DOWN THE BANK.
Cries for help were heard from the bottom of the embankment. T. H. McCoy, one of the postal clerks, had managed to get out, but six were imprisoned by the heavy tables and the mail. They were F.S. McCausland, head clerk, of Boston; E.E. Clarke, his assistant, of Haddam; William F. Hart, of Boston; Charles Mitchell, of New York; C.P. Turner, of Malden, and P. Connaty, of Worcester, clerks. It was difficult to get at them, and they were imprisoned forty minutes. A passenger named Davenport was particularly active in the rescue.
The engineer and fireman were carried up the hill to the station. It was seen that the injuries of the fireman were the more serious. He was only partially conscious, and did not realize what had happened.
'Jennie, Jennie!' he moaned. He was thinking of his wife, whom he had married only seven months ago and whom he had kissed goodby [sic] at New Haven a couple of hours before.
The men laid him gently down near the stove. The ashes and dust sent flying by the fall of the locomotive made him more grimy than usual. From a cut on his forehead blood flowed down his face.
MISS THURSBY A 'MINISTERING ANGEL.'
Then a woman burst through the line of sympathizing but helpless men and kneeling at Blake's head, gently wiped away the blood and grime. It was Miss Emma Thursby, the singer. She and her sister had been passengers in the boudoir car and had escaped, with a pet canary and a bag containing things useful in cases of accident.
It was apparent that the man could not live long. Mrs. Merritt, the wife of the station agent, urged Miss Thursby to leave, so as to avoid the shock of a death scene.
'No, no,' Miss Thursby replied, 'I can't leave him now.'
Blake struggled to rise. 'Jennie, Jennie! there's a terrible weight there,' he moaned, indicating the lower part of his body; 'take it away!'
'Then a shudder passed over him, and the face which Miss Thursby was bathing tenderly was that of a dead man. Blake had not lived forty minutes after the accident.
His companion, Engineer Phillips, was doing better. Miss Thursby had found a bottle of liniment in her satchel, and a passenger rubbed Phillips' body industriously with it.
''I'm afraid you're getting tired,' Phillips said, when he had been under treatment for some time.
'I'm going to rub till you get better,' was the good natured reply. The treatment was kept up for nearly an hour and then Phillips declared that he was much better. His injuries consist of only bruises, so far as a superficial examination disclosed. He was thought to have got off wonderfully light for a man who had fallen seventy feet with a locomotive. 'No man living could do that again,' Superintendent Stevenson declared.
In the meantime all the postal clerks but Turner had been rescued. One of the heavy tables had fallen over on him and it could not be moved. Turner suffered greatly.
'Mac, Mac!' he cried at length, to Mr. McCansland: 'I can't stand this any longer.'
Mr. McCansland spoke encouraging words, and then a passenger arrived with a flask of brandy which had been sent by Miss Thursby. The brandy enabled the clerk to hold out until he was released. He was the most seriously hurt of all the clerks.
FLAGGING THE ADAMS TRAIN.
When Johnny Platt, the water boy, had got a quarter of a mile on his way to flag the Adams train he saw another red lantern bobbing in front of him. It belonged to Conductor Augustus Holcombe, who had started out as soon as he could get off the train. He was unwilling to trust the duty to any one but himself, knowing the great importance of not making a mistake. The two reached New Rochelle in time to stop the Adams express train there. The train was switched on to the up track and ran down to the scene of the accident. The injured, some of the passengers and a portion of the mail matter were brought to this city by it. The remaining passengers came on the Shore line express. During the remainder of the day the road between New Rochelle and Mount Vernon was managed as a single track road, and there was little detention of trains.
Train Despatcher Frost, of Mount Vernon, arrived on a locomotive with Dr. Campbell within half an hour of the acccident. At ten o'clock Superintendent Stevenson arrived with a wrecking train from New Haven. Two things made the work of the wreckers difficult - the fact that the three sleeping cars were liable to tumble down at any moment and the narrow space at the top of the embankment. First stout cables were fastened around the cars to hold them up and then the men got to work with hydraulic jacks. It was expected that the track would be cleared at midnight and ready for to-day's traffic. Only a few trains are run on Sunday, but during the week something like a hundred are run daily.
The scene yesterday was an extraordinary one. The postal car lay on its left side on the slope of the embankment at right angles to the top. It is sixty feet long. One end was far from the ditch at the bottom of the embankment, while the other did not near reach the summit. A little nearer the station were the remains of the tender upside down. Still further along was the locomotive, with all its top gear shaved off clean and the bars and rods under twisted and bent. On the hillside were scattered trucks, masses of iron and pieces of rail broken like pipe stems. The top of the embankment was strewn, almost covered, with bits of wood ranging in sizes from a carrot down. They were the pieces of the platform ground up by the wheels of the train. Still more curiously than at these sights thousands of people from the country for miles around stared at the three sleepers perilously perched on the edge of the embankments, at the deep dents in the ties where the wheels had run over them, and at the giant furrows in the earth.
According to Superintendent Stevenson, Train Despatcher Frost and other railroad men, the platform was probably turned over on the rails just as the train approached. The big driving wheels of the locomotive ground it up either till the pony trucks forward slewed or the drivers were derailed. Then the inside drivers bent the outer rail, and the locomotive fell off, flinging the tender over itself and pulling down the postal car. The division of the train at once set the automatic air brakes. The three forward cars were going at so high a rate of speed that they passed safely over the damaged rail, but the speed had so relaxed when the three sleepers reached it that they were derailed. The deep furrows cut are ascribed to the fact that the wheels were tightly locked by the brakes. They were so deep as to afford support to the inclined sleepers. Grateful railroad men said that if the ground had had less frost in it, it would have slid down with the cars and that if it had been harder the wheels would not have got so good a purchase in the ground and the sleepers would have fallen.
THE RAILROAD COMPANY'S ACCOUNT.
The superintendent of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company was not in his office at the Grand Central Depot yesterday afternoon, but the official in charge willingly furnished all the information in his possession regarding the accident. He said:--
'It as the limited express train, which left Boston at 10:30 last night, that met with the accident. It was due at Pelham Station at 5:51 A.M., and reached there at 5:55 o'clock. The accident happened at that hour.'
'What was the cause of the accident?' the reporter asked.
'The high wind of last night, which lifted the long platform extending from the Pelhamville depot and turned it over upon the track. The train dashed into it, and the engine and mail car were at once thrown over and down an embankment thirty feet deep. The fireman, Eugene Blake, a married man, residing in New Haven, was found under the engine all but dead. The engineer, Riley Phillips, was injured, but not seriously.'
'Were many of the passengers injured?'
'They were all pretty well shaken up, but none that we know of were sufficiently injured to require surgical assistance. The mail clerks in the post office car were nearly all hurt; and the wonderful and fortunate thing about this accident is the escape of the passengers from death or injury. They all came on by the next train, as did a portion of the mail reaching her at twenty-two minutes past eight o'clock.'
'At what hour did you send out wrecking trains?'
'They all went out from New Haven. One reached the scene of the accident at about ten o'clock.'
'What is the amount of loss sustained by the railroad company?'
'I could not give you any idea, but the engine is badly wrecked, the postal train is destroyed and the other cars are more or less injured. The loss will be considerable.'
A RAILROAD MAN'S STORY.
Mr. John J. Sproull contentedly stroked his gray beard yesterday afternoon as he sat, in dressing gown and slippers, in the parlor of his home, No. 316 West Twenty-third street, and told a HERALD reporter of his rude awakening from sleep at Pelhamville in the early morning. Mr. Sproull is general agent in this city of the Illinois Central Railroad, and is rather used to smash-ups, having been in a number of them in the course of his thirty years of railroad experience. He was in the Mann boudoir car, which was the fifth from the engine, following the postal, baggage and smoking cars and the passenger coach. He had a compartment to himself and the bunk in which he slept was situated athwart the car.
'When the crash came,' said Mr. Sproull, 'I instinctively grabbed hold of something, I don't know just what, with both hands and held on for all I was worth. It was pitch dark and I couldn't see a thing. There was a grinding and a bumping and a jolting that made it clear that the car was off the track, and I expected every minute to come smash against something or to find myself tumbling down an embankment. I clung on, however, till we came to a stop. I hastily concluded that the best thing I could do was to remain in my berth until something developed. A minute or two passed in this suspense, when I heard the voice of the porter shouting:-
'All hands get out as quick as you can. You're right on the edge of an embankment, and there's no telling what minute you'll tumble over.'
AN INTERESTING PREDICAMENT.
'That was encouraging. I had utilized the minute or two of waiting to draw on my trousers. I grabbed my coat and hat and shoes and got out without any needless delay. The wind was howling and the cold was something awful. I slung my coat about me and a towel that I snatched up as I ran I wrapped around my neck for a muffler. Sure enough, we were right on the verge of a steep embankment that I learned afterward was more than sixty feet high. The height was calculated from the fact that the postal car, which was sixty feet long, had one end resting on the bottom of the gulch, while the other end did not reach to the level. The cab of the engine was blazing away down below and it seemed a miracle that all the cars had not tumbled down on top of the engine, when there would have been a dreadful disaster. As it was, the two sleeping coaches in the rear of the car that I had been in seemed pretty sure to go over even then. They hung over the edge, and the only thing that I could see saved them was that the wheels had been driven into the ground up to the axles. The passengers in those coaches had managed to clamber out in some way. They had not met with any injury beyond bruises and slight cuts, but there they were, most of them with only their underclothing on, shivering in the cutting wind. None of them dared to enter the cars, as the least thing seemed likely to send them over the embankment. Pretty soon somebody came down from the station, about a block away, and said that it was open and had a good fire. The unclad passengers skipped up there as fast as they could. The scene would have been grotesque if it had not been so dreadfully serious.
THE FIREMAN'S PATHETIC CRY.
'The poor fireman, Eugene Blake, was carried up the hill as soon as he could be got at and laid upon the track. A doctor was telegraphed for, but the man died long before the doctor reached there. He did not seem to have any bones broken, but he was injured internally, and was evidently suffering great pain. He was conscious, and between his moans cried in a pitiful way, 'Jennie; oh, I wish Jennie were here.' She was his wife. They had only been married five months, and the man told me he was completely wrapped up in her. Engineer Riley Phillips hobbled up to the station with some assistance. He has been on the road for a number of years, and was considered one of its best men.
'When daylight came, about half an hour after the accident happened, the conductor and the brakemen ventured to climb into the overturned coaches and managed to recover most of the passengers' clothing. One man that I came down to the city with, however, was very greatly exercised over the loss of his coat and vest, a gold watch that he said was worth $200 and $40 in money. I was surprised to see how philosophically the passengers, as a body, took the occurrence. They were almost contented, being thankful,, I suppose, toe escape with their lives. If it hadn't been that the road had the most approved appliances there would have surely been a very heavy loss of life, for the other cars would have gone over. This was prevented by the fact that when the postal car coupling broke the automatic brake was at once set and all the other cars were brought to a standstill. It only needed that they should have gone a few feet further to have caused them to topple.'
AN INJURED ELECTRICIAN.
Charles Adams Randall, an engineer, had been on a Christmas visit to his family in Massachusetts. He was laid up in bed yesterday afternoon at his residence, No. 219 East Forty-eighth street, suffering from shock, bruises and cold. He had been asleep in the car that followed the Mann boudoir car. He came to his senses to find himself bouncing along on the sleepers. In great affright he jumped for his window and smashed it. As he did so the car toppled over, falling on the side opposite to that on which the window was. He climbed out of the window without waiting to take anything with him and jumped a couple of feet to the ground. He had nothing on but his undershirt.
'I tumbled nearly half way down the embankment,' he said, 'clutching at the earth as I went in the effort to stop myself. Below me I could see the fire and the steam of the engine and above the cars seemed about to topple over on me. Halfway down I managed to stop myself, and, keeping out of range of the cars, started to climb back. I was nearly frozen, but was at first afraid to go near the car. Finally I reached in the window and pulled out a blanket and wrapped it around me. A little later I reached in the window again and got some of my clothes and partly dressed myself. Then three or four men came along and took me up into one of the cars that were standing. In the course of half an hour or so they brought me some more of my clothes, but I lost my overcoat.
'The other passengers were bruised and cut a little, but nothing to amount to much, so far as I heard. I saw one man go flying down the embankment at the same time that I was going down. He hadn't anything on him either. When he got to the stone wall at the bottom he didn't stop to look behind, but jumped over and fell into the little creek.'
THE POSTAL CLERKS' EXPERIENCE.
Two of the injured postal clerks, E.E. Clark and Peter Conaty, were brought diret from the Grand Central Depot to the Post Office. A third clerk, Charles McCoy, came down with them, but he was able to go in the afternoon to a friend's house in Brooklyn. Clark was found by a HERALD reporter lying on one of the couches in the postal clerks' dormitory, on the top floor of the Post Office building.
'It was a most remarkable escape from death for all of us,' said he. 'The train was going at a high rate of speed and the postal car, with seven of us in it, was thrown headlong down a bank, and yet we are all alive. If the accident had happened half an hour earlier, while the lamps were lighted, some of us would probably have been very badly burned. We had put off the last mail at Stamford, and,not having anything more to do until we arrived in New York, we tried to get a little rest. Some one put out all the lamps, and we lay down on the benches to take it easy. Conaty, Hart, Turner and I were in the rear end of the car. Turner was lying on the table one which the letters were sorted. It was a heavy affair, made of cherry, with hinges down the middle, so that it could be folded up to give more room.
'When the smash came I was hurled across the car under an iron rack, while several heavy wooden drawers landed on my head and back. My head was cut and my back felt as if it was broken, but I got up as soon as I could and groped around in the dark until I stepped on Conaty's arm. He was regularly buried under mail bags, and for the moment was unconscious. Just then Hart stumbled up against me, and together we pulled Conaty out. Then we heard Turner's voice begging for help, but things were so frightfully upside down that we couldn't get to him. After a while the side door at one end was opened and we climbed out. Down at the other end Mitchell, who had been lying on a lot of mail bags, was thrown against the heater. The hot ashes poured out and signed off his hair and eyebrows. The upper door of the heater was also pushed open and the hot coals were dropping out when McCoy, who had been thrown under a bench near Mitchell, closed all the doors, and, helped by McCausland, the head clerk, who hadn't even been scratched, carried Mitchell out. They heard Turner calling for help and came up to our end of the car, where we all set to work, aided by one of the passengers, Mr. Davenport. None of the other passengers or trainmen came near us. After finding a lantern we lifted out the fenders, mailbags and racks through the side door, which was uppermost, until we found Turner. The shock had shut up the table on which he was lying as if it was a book, and had caught him between the leaves and nearly squeezed the life out of him.
'After we got him out and carried him ut to one of the passenger cars, one of the ladies belonging to the Davenport Brothers' theatrical company dressed his wounds, gave him brandy and nursed him with great tenderness.'
THE MAILS ALL SAFE.
Mr. McCausland, who had charge of the mail car, seemed a good deal more elated over the fact that the mails were all safe than over his escape. The mails were light, as they usually are on Sundays, and were all in the pouches when the accident occurred. If the letters had been loose many of them would have been blown away and lost. As it was, none of the mail was even damaged. The registered pouches were sent on by the Adams Express Company's train and the other pouches which could not be got out in time, were forwarded by the seven o'clock express last evening. Clerks Hart and Conaty were recently appointed. They say that their offices are at the disposal of anybody who wants them, as they have had enough railroading. Clerk Clark, who has been in the business fifteen years, also declared that he had had enough.
The baggageman [sic] had a narrow escape. He had just emerged from the aisle between the piles of heavy trunks when the crash came and all the trunks tumbled together where he had been standing.
The body of Fireman Blake was taken to the house of Charles McGaillard, a friend, at Pelhamville. Coroner Tice will hold an inquest.
VICE PRESIDENT REED BLAMES NO ONE.
[BY TELEGRAPH TO THE HERALD.]
NEW HAVEN, Conn., Dec. 27, 1885.-Vice President Reed was seen to-night in regard to the accident at Pelhamville this morning. He said it was one that no foresight could have prevented. The train left here at 3:58 this morning. The wind was blowing a hurricane at the time, its velocity being estimated by some persons at sixty miles an hour. The wind blew the wooden platform at the Pelhamville station directly upon the right hand track, and the engineer did not see the obstruction until the train was within one hundred feet of it. It is impossible to estimate the damage, but it will be quite large. The wind also blew the roof from a freight car on the switch. It is the intention of the company to replace the wooden platform at this station and at several other stations on the road with concrete, which will prevent such accidents in the future.'
Mr. Reed blames no one, and says that in all his experience he never before heard of such an accident."
Source: A Hair-Breadth Escape - Three Sleeping Cars Hung on the Verge of a High Embankment - Smash Up on the New Haven Road, New York Herald, Dec. 28, 1885, p. 5, col. 1.
"THE PELHAMVILLE SMASHUP
Crowds of Visitors and Hordes of Wood Gatherers at the Wreck.
STATION AGENT, POSTMASTER, EXPRESSMAN.
The Blame for the Accident Not Fixed and the Inquest Adjourned.
Pelhamville was chock full of excitement and kindling wood yesterday as the results of Sunday morning's accident on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Crowds of people came on trains and in vehicles of ancient and modern pattern from every neighboring town, and men and women and boys and girls ran hither and thither with arms full and aprons full and baskets full of sticks and planks and chips and splinters that had been strewn about in the wreck. The windows of every ccar that whirled by were mahogany frames to life size pictures of eager faces, while the surrounding hillsides were lined with horses and carriages, whose passengers were grouped around the prostrate engine and the shattered mail car, both of which - like disabled pachyderms, with their helpless legs in the air - lay upon their sides, wheels up, down the embankment. Scarce a thought seemed to be given the poor, brave fellow who had lost his life by remaining manfully at his post and whose remains were being prepared for burial in a little blue cottage just over the hilltop. Everybody was possessed of the most inordinate curiosity, and one would almost have thought that some of the people felt disappointed that such a terrible plunge of engine and cars down a depth of sixty feet had not been attended with more tragic results. Expert workmen had cleared the track early the night before, and trains were running regularly, and a score of men were still at work ballasting the 300 feet of road that had been so disastrously torn up. The imprint cut by the wheels on leaving the rails was to be seen in each of the crossties, and two rails were thrown to one side hopelessly bent. It is expected that the mail car may be righted and hauled up on the main track by means of an improvised siding, to be built between now and next Sunday.
WILL THERE BE ANOTHER ACCIDENT?
'There'll be a worse accident than this here one of these days,' said the woman who keeps a little refreshment saloon directly opposite the Pelhamville depot. 'Why?' she repeated, after the reporter. 'Because there ain't anybody around this station after half-past eight o'clock at night. There are gates across the road there, you see, to keep people and horses from crossing the track while a train approaches, but at night those gates are deserted. Anybody can cross the track at night at any time, and there are trains flying through here at all hours. I have saved many a team from crossing in the face of a train at night.'
'Did you hear the platform when it blew across the track Sunday morning?'
'Yes. The noise woke me up. It must have been about half an hour before the train arrived. My young niece, who sleeps with me, heard the noise too, and she remarked that she thought the pigeon house had blown down. I thought she was right. Had I known what the real cause was I would have run any distance up the track, with only a blanket around me, if needs be, to flag the train and save life. The station agent has too much to do and there ain't enough precautions taken by the company.'
A MAN OF ALL WORK.
'What are the station agent's duties?'
'First of all he's station agent, and has to stay in the depot to sell tickets. He gets $30 a month for that. Then he's Postmaster, and I don't know what's his salary for that office. Besides this he's agent for the Adams Express Company. A telephone company has an instrument in the depot, and he has to attend to that.'
'Yes, and he's expected to attend to the gates. He gets $20 a month for that and he employs a boy to work them for him. But, pshaw! Half the time the boy is off in the village on some errand or other.'
There seemed to be no denying what this woman said. While the reporter was talking to the station agent, who appeared to be a really intelligent and reliable man, a young girl came in to inquire if there were any letters for 'Ma,' 'Johnnie,' 'Sister Mary" and 'Neighbor Van Vliet,' and a young man wanted a telephone message sent to the doctor at Mount Vernon for him to come up and attend a railroad man who had been injured some weeks ago and was growing worse. The station agent said that he thought the platform had blown across the track just as the train approached, otherwise he would have heard it. Then he admitted, however, that he didn't hear the accident and wasn't made aware of it until aroused by the Adams Express agent, who came to the door with a lot of half dressed passengers. The noise of the train he at first thought might have drowned the noise of the platform as it blew across the track.
Nobody in Pelhamville disputes the fact that the platform did blow across the track. The rumor that malicious men had torn up the platform and placed it on the track for revenge was jeered at, and there were those who said that the wind must have blown at the rate of fifty miles an hour. As the platform was about fifty feet long, with the north side exposed , and raised upon posts about three feet high, it is very likely that a much less wind than what is supposed to have blown Sunday morning would have torn up the structure.
Touching the death of Fireman Eugene Blake, John C. Platt, a water boy, testified at the inquest held in Pelhamville by Coroner Tice, of Mount Vernon, yesterday that when he found the fireman he was lying on his stomack in the roofless cab of the locomotive with his feet against the furnace door. The fireman answered him when spoken to and said he was 'done for.' Assistance came, and the fireman was carried to the depot, where he died in about forty minutes.
Conductor Erskin C. Holcomb testified that he had been a conductor for ten years, and that he left Springfield with the train that was wrecked at 1:55 A.M., arriving at Pelhamville station at 5:55 A.M., and four minutes late. He was in the first sleeping car, which was the fifth car from the locomotive when the accident occurred, and felt a sudden jot of the train and realized at once that the train was either off the track or that there was some obstruction under it. The train stopped almost immediately, and when he stepped off he saw the locomotive and mail car down the bank and having taken in the situation he went to New Rochelle and telegraphed for a wrecking train.
Station Agent Merritt did not know whether the platform was spiked or anchored down and all he knew was that it was built seven years ago and had been repaired last spring. Several other witnesses were examined and they all agreed as to the promptness with which a red light danger signal was sent back to warn the oncoming train. Owing to the absence of Engineer Phillips, who was injured, the inquest was adjourned till next Tuesday.
An examination of the platform showed that there were no spikes or anchorings in the posts that upheld it.
The funeral of the dead engineer will take place from the residence of his wife's sister, Mrs. George W. Parsons, No. 300 East 120th street, this city, at two o'clock this afternoon. The interment will be at Woodlawn Cemetery.
The wounded are all doing well."
Source: The Pelhamville Smashup, New York Herald, Dec. 29, 1885, p. 6, col. 1.
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