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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Death by Train in Pelhamville While Fighting in 1893

The morning began quite beautifully on Friday, July 14, 1893.  Both Mount Vernon and the little adjacent settlement known as Pelhamville were bustling.  Indeed, the area around the border between the two communities along the New Haven Main Line railroad tracks was particularly busy that summer morning.

There was new construction underway nearby in view of the railroad tracks.  John Deveaugh was one of five carpenters standing on scaffolding working away on that new construction that morning.  Additionally, a number of women including one known as "Mrs. Brachman" were working away in homes scattered near the railroad tracks in the area.

At about 8:00 a.m., many in the area heard shouts.  In fact, they heard angry shouts.  John Deveaugh and his fellow carpenters looked in the direction of the noise.  Several women, including Mrs. Brachman, stepped outside to see what was happening.

Two young men, both about 25 years old, were on the railroad tracks shouting angrily at each other.  The pair had been walking from Mount Vernon toward Pelhamville along the railroad tracks when they stopped and began to argue opposite Holler's ice houses.  Soon, the bigger of the two removed his jacket, tossed it aside, and took a swing at the smaller man.

The fight began.

The men began swinging wildly at each other.  Though it was 8:00 in the morning, they seemed obviously drunk as they quarreled and fought.  The pair grabbed each other in a clinch as they fought.  The five carpenters and the local women watched the pair grapple.

Then came the shrill shriek of a steam locomotive whistle. . . . . 

The New York bound New Haven Express Train No. 12 was bearing down on the two men.  The carpenters began screaming warnings to the pair from their scaffolds.  The train engineer blew the steam whistle repeatedly and applied the air brakes.  The violent squeal of the train wheels sliding on the iron railroad tracks filled the air.  The women watching then "shrieked in terror."

The pair fighting on the tracks were so engrossed in their anger and their fight they did not realize that the train was bearing down on them.  It was only when the train was about five hundred feet away from them that they first realized their danger.  They loosened their grip on each other.  Then, as the onlookers watched in terror, the smaller man grabbed the bigger man again. . . .

The express train barreled into the pair nearly at full speed.  The bigger man was thrown headlong into the air so high that he struck the telegraph wires strung adjacent to the tracks, then fell to the embankment below and tumbled down the slope "among great rocks that lined its base."  The smaller man simply disappeared as if swallowed by the massive steam locomotive.

The carpenters and women scrambled to the scene.  Soon, as a result of the commotion, others appeared.  The bigger man was found at the foot of the embankment.  He was dead with every limb shattered.  The smaller man, however, was nowhere to be found.

A gathering crowd began searching for the smaller man.

It was a young boy who found the first clue.  The boy found one of the man's legs "under a pear tree near the scene of the accident."  It was quite some time before trainmen found the mangled remnants of the body of the smaller man beneath one of the railroad cars.  According to one report, "The fragments were taken to New Rochelle."

Soon, tongues were wagging.  All were talking about how the smaller man grabbed the bigger one as the train bore down upon the pair.  It seems the smaller man had not grabbed the bigger man to hold him in place and die together.  Rather, it was an attempt to save the life of the bigger man.  According to John Deveaugh "I saw him seize his companion just as the train struck them.  He may have intended to save him, but they had been fighting the minute before."  Mrs. Brachman also saw the small man grab the big one.  She said "I thought maybe he was trying to save the other's life."

Who were these men?  What was their story?  

Newspapers throughout the United States reported on the terrible quarrel and the gruesome deaths that resulted.  Initially, they reported that the bigger man whose body was tossed into the telegraph wires and down the embankment was "Thomas Sweeney of Kingsbridge."  The reports were wrong.  It turned out that the man was named "Wier" and was from Wakefield.  The smaller man whose mangled body was found beneath one of the railroad cars was Thomas Burke of Mount Vernon.

Their story was this.  The evening before their deaths, Thomas Burke stole $2.00 from his landlady, a woman known as Mrs. McLaughlin.  It was believed that the two men used the stolen money to get drunk in Mount Vernon during the overnight and early morning hours.  According to one report, the men "were so intoxicated that they narrowly escaped arrest" in Mount Vernon overnight.  The pair apparently were still intoxicated when the express train ended their quarrel on the tracks in a most gruesome fashion.

There have been, of course, many deaths and injuries on the railroad tracks of the New Haven Main Line that pass through Pelham during the last 167 years.  For many decades the railroad tracks were a principal pathway for people traveling back and forth between the communities of Pelham and Mount Vernon.  The horrific pair of deaths that occurred on the tracks in the little settlement of Pelhamville on July 14,1893, however, remain to this day among the most terrible such accidents in the history of Pelham.

Ca. 1893 Steam Locomotive Train Likely Similar to the One
that Killed Two Men at the Pelhamville Border on July 14,
1893.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Thomas Sweeney and an Unknown Companion Mangled Near Pelhamville, N. Y.
It Is Thought That One of the Men Saw the Danger and Tried to Save His Antagonist.

MOUNT VERNON, N. Y., July 14, 1893.  --  Two men who had been drinking chose the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, half a mile east of here, to settle a quarrel this morning.  They clinched and paid no heed to an approaching express train, which proved itself a terrible peacemaker.

One of the men was Thomas Sweeney of Kingsbridge.  The other is as yet unidentified.  Their mangled bodies are in Davis' morgue at New Rochelle.

Half way between here and Pelhamville Holler's ice houses stand on one side of the track.  Employes there noticed the two men walking east on the tracks about eight o'clock in the morning.  They were quarrelling and passed around a curve, but shortly returned.  They were talking more heatedly, and then Sweeney took off his coat and struck at his companion.  They grappled, and then seemingly agreed on a temporary truce.


Each then ate some cherries which one of them carried in a box, but the quarrel began again in so boisterous a way that five carpenters working on a new house three hundred yards from the tracks rested their tools to watch the men.  Their loud words also attracted women from their homes near the icehouse.

The men clinched and occasionally struck at each other.  They were very drunk.  Suddenly the spectators were startled by the shrill whistle of the New Haven express train, No. 12.  It was bearing down upon the struggling men.  The carpenters called out warning from their scaffolds and the women who looked on shrieked in terror.

The train was within five hundred feet of the men, when they appeared to cease their quarrel and realize their danger.  The engineer had applied the air brakes, but the train was coming swiftly on.  The men did not attempt to leave the track, though they had loosened their grip on each other.  The train was within an engine's length of them, when the smaller man again seized Sweeney.  Then the train struck them.

Sweeny [sic] was tossed headlong over the embankment.  His body struck the telegraph wires and pitched foremost down the bank among great rocks that lined its base.  Every limb was shattered.


At first search for the other man was vain, but a boy found one of his legs under a pear tree near the scene of the accident.  Trainmen later on took the remainder of his body from under one of the cars.  The fragments were taken to New Rochelle.

'The big man was pitched as high as the telegraph wires, while the other man disappeared under the cars,' said John Deveaugh, one of the carpenters.  'I saw him seize his companion just as the train struck them.  He may have intended to save him, but they had been fighting the minute before.'

Mrs. Brachman also saw the smaller man take hold of the other.

'I thought,' she said, 'maybe he was trying to save the other's life.'

Each of the men were [sic] about twenty-five years old and had been in Mount Vernon early this morning.  They were so intoxicated that they narrowly escaped arrest.  They visited the railroad yards, where Sweeney told a workman that he had a mother and two sisters living in New York.

Coroner A. J. Mixsell will hold the inquest on Monday."

Source:  KILLED BY A TRAIN WHILE FIGHTING -- Thomas Sweeney and an Unknown Companion Mangled Near Pelhamville, N. Y. -- UNMINDFUL OF THE WHISTLE -It Is Thought That One of the Men Saw the Danger and Tried to Save His Antagonist -- WOMEN SAW THE TRAGEDY, N.Y. Herald, Jul. 15, 1893, p. 5, col. 6.


The two men killed by an express train Friday, at Pelhamville, N. Y., while fighting on the track have been identified.

The body supposed to be that of Thomas Sweeney, of Kingsbridge, is that of a man named Wier, of Wakefield.  The other dead man is Thomas Burke of Mount Vernon.  He stole $2 from Mrs. McLaughlin, his landlady, and it is supposed he and Wier became drunk with the money."

Source:  STOLE TO GO ON HIS FINAL DRUNK, N.Y. Herald, Jul. 17, 1893, p. 9, col. 5.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home