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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More on the Findings of the Coroner's Inquest That Followed the Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

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 was carried into the Pelhamville train station where he died forty minutes later.

Images and Front Cover of the January 16, 1886
Issue of Scientific American that Featured a Cover
Story About the Pelhamville Train Wreck Entitled
"A Remarkable Railroad Accident."  NOTE:
Click on Images to Enlarge.

Hundreds and hundreds of articles appeared in newspapers throughout the United States regarding the Pelhamville Train Wreck.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes two more brief articles regarding the Coroner's Inquest that followed the accident.  As I have noted before and as one of the articles below reports, following the coroner's inquest, the coroner's jury found the New Haven Railroad criminally negligent in connection with the accident, rendering a verdict, "That the said Eugene Blake came to his death by a railroad accident at Pelhamville, Dec. 27, 1885, through the criminal negligence of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company in failing to secure the platform of the above station."  

Each account below is followed by a citation to its source.

"THE PELHAMVILLE ACCIDENT.--Coroner Tice, on Monday morning, went to Pelhamville for the purpose of holding his inquest touching the death of Eugene Blake, the fireman, who was the only victim of the accident Sunday morning.  The body had been removed on Sunday to his late home in New Haven, where he had a wife to whom he had been married only five months.  The testimony of half a dozen witnesses was taken.  They were all employes [sic] of the railroad company, and, of course, made it as favorable as possible, but, as it was plainly an unavoidable accident, they had not much to gloss over.  They described their sensations on the train when the crash came, how they hurried out and found the wreck as has already been described in these columns.  The water-boy found the unfortunate fireman wedged in the cab of the locomotive with his feet against the door of the fire box.  He was conscious and said he thought he was 'done for' and a brakeman carried him to the station, where he died in forty minutes.  The inquest was then adjourned for a week in order to take the testimony of the engineer and the builder of the platform, the latter to describe how it had been constructed and whether it had been spiked down, of which there is a good deal of doubt.  Trains were running regularly on time on Monday."

Source:  THE PELHAMVILLE ACCIDENT, The Yonkers Statesman, Dec. 29, 1885, Vol. III, No. 654, p. 1, col. 4.  

"The Pelhamville Accident.

Last Saturday evening Coroner Tice concluded his inquest relative to the death of Fireman Eugene Blake in the railroad accident at Pelhamville, on Dec. 27.  Riley Phillips, the engineer, testified that as he neared the station the air was full of flying sand raised by the storm.  When he struck the platform, he shut off steam and then went with his engine down the embankment.  There were no flanges on the forward driving wheels, but he believed that flanges would not have saved the engine.  John Heeney, Jr. superintendent of motive power for the road, testified that two-thirds of the engines were similarly constructed to enable them to round curves with the least possible strain of the axles.  The other witness could not discover that the old platform had been securely spiked down.  The jury then rendered a verdict, 'That the said Eugene Blake came to his death by a railroad accident at Pelhamville, Dec. 27, 1885, through the criminal negligence of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company in failing to secure the platform of the above station.' ----
Yonkers Statesman.'"

Source:  [Untitled], The Eastern State Journal, Jan. 23, 1886, p. 2, col. 5.  

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I have written before 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:

Mon., Sep. 24, 2007:  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).

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."  

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