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, March 27, 2015

Compensation Paid by the Railroad After the 1885 Pelhamville Train Wreck

On December 27, 1885, the mail express train out of Boston known as the "Owl Train" because it traveled overnight between Boston and New York City reached Pelhamville during a major windstorm just as a gale lifted the wooden station platform into the air and flipped it onto the tracks.  Engineer Riley Phillips cut the steam and braked, but the engine smashed into the overturned platform, left the rails and tumbled end-over-end down the 60-foot embankment dragging the fire tender and a large mail car with it. Phillips and his fireman, recently-married Eugene Blake, were thrown out of the cab. Phillips was bruised, but lived.  Eugene Blake was crushed in the incident and died a short time later.

One of the mail clerks who was sorting mail in the mail car at the time of the wreck, James H. McCoy, was injured not during the accident but, instead, in the aftermath as he tried to free his fellow mail clerks who were trapped in the mail car with a fire burning in the pot-bellied stove used to provide heat.  

Only known photograph showing the aftermath of the "Pelhamville
Train Wreck of 1885.” The January 16, 1886 issue of Scientific
American included an artist’s depiction of the same scene in
connection with an article about the wreck describing it as 
"A Remarkable Railroad Accident" that occurred on the New Haven
Line in Pelhamville (now part of the Village of Pelham) at about 6:00
a.m. on December 27, 1885. See A Remarkable Railroad Accident,
Scientific American, Jan. 16, 1886, Vol. LIV, No. 3, pp. 31-32. 
The engine and tender lie in the foreground with the mail car behind.
NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

It has taken years of research to identify what payments may have been made as compensation for the death of Eugene Blake and the injuries suffered by others.  Last year I wrote about the settlement of the lawsuit brought by Eugene Blake's widow against the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.  The widow received a payment of $4,000 to settle the suit.  See Wed., March 26, 2014:  Postscript To the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 - Settlement of the Widow's Lawsuit Against the Railroad.

Although a number of payments likely were made after the accident, I have recently been able to identify two additional instances of compensation by the railroad.  Postal Clerk James H. McCoy, who was injured while working to free his comrades from the mail car after the accident, received a $1,000 payment from the railroad described in a news account as compensation for his "bravery" and "for injuries sustained" in the accident.  Additionally, the engineer, Riley Phillips, who was thrown from the engine during the accident and was bruised badly but survived, received only half pay for a number of months after the accident while he recuperated and then received a $250 payment from the railroad as compensation. 

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes two very brief newspaper references to the payments.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

A Postal Clerk Receives $1000 for Bravery During the Pelhamville Accident. 

PUTNAM, Conn., March 10. – Postal Clerk James H. McCoy of this place, whose route lies between Boston and New York, has received a check for $1000 from the railroad company for injuries sustained in the Pelhamville accident last spring. McCoy received his injuries while he loyally endeavored to release his comrades from the burning cars.” 

Source: DESERVED THE REWARD – A Postal Clerk Receives $1000 for Bravery During the Pelhamville Accident, The Boston Daily Globe, p. 13, col. 3 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access link).

"-- Vice-President Reed, of the Consolidated Road, has presented Riley Phillips, the heroic engineer of the recent disaster to the Boston Express train at Pelhamville, with a check for $250.  Phillips has been on half pay recently but has now gone on the road again."

Source:  [Untitled], New Rochelle Pioneer, Mar. 13, 1886, p. 6, col. 1.  

*          *          *          *          *

I have written extensively about this tragic Pelhamville train wreck.  For some of the many 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

Thu., Apr. 02, 2009:  Biographical Data and Photo of the Engineer of the Train that Wrecked in Pelhamville on December 27, 1885

Fri., Jul. 15, 2011:  Another Newspaper Account of The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

Mon., Feb. 17, 2014:  Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885:  Another Account Published with a Diagram of the Aftermath of the Crash.  

Wed., Mar. 26, 2014:  Postscript To the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885 - Settlement of the Widow's Lawsuit Against the Railroad.

Wed., Feb. 11, 2015:  Coroner's Inquest Jury Found Railroad "Criminally Negligent" in the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 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).

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