Washington, DC Train Wreck, Aug 1887




WASHINGTON, Aug. 17.----The few residents in the neighborhood of the Baltimore and Ohio "Y" who were up and on the street at 6:30 o'clock this morning witnessed a singular and startling scene. It was no less a spectacle than that of a train of cars leaping from the track and rushing with the speed of lightning and the crash of a thunderbolt through a brick house. In an instant the train and the house were in a heap of ruins, and the track for some distance was littered with debris. The train to which the accident occurred was train No. 4 the St. Louis, Chicago and Cincinnati Express, coming from the West and due here at 6:20. About 6:30 it came thundering into the city over the Metropolitan Branch, and at the curve, nearly a mile away from the "Y", began whistling "down brakes." For some reason the brakes were not put down. The air brakes, it was stated, did not work, and the engineer began blowing his distress whistle for the brakeman to put on the hand brakes. Either the brakeman did not heed the signal or it was not given in time to be of use, for the train, flying at a frightful rate, same rushing on toward the sharp curve at the "Y."

On the south side of the "Y," in the little corner made by the intersection of the tracks, was the railroad signal tower, a brick structure three stories high, where railroad men are employed to regulate the signals and the switches at the "Y." When the train turned the sharp curve of the "Y" with fearful headway, the cars behind the engine left the track and smashed into the signal tower and in an instant there was a wreck. The engine was dragged from the track, and plowing through the dirt and mud, a distance of 150 feet, rolled completely over. There it lay, giving forth its steam and hot water in great jets. The steam plowed up the dirt and covered the house in front of the engine with a fine layer of yellow mud that looked like a fresh coat of paint. The steam and water were blown through the house and some of the inmates were badly scalded. Near the engine lay Hamilton Brosius, the engineer, badly crushed and his fireman with several bones broken. But behind the engine was a scene of panic and confusion. One car was crushed and nearly buried under the bricks and timbers of the demolished building. Two sleeping coaches and one passenger coach remained on the track. The mail car, the express car, and the baggage car were rolled over and their sides were crushed. The roof of one car protruded from the ruins of the building.

The disaster, of course, created intense excitement. A fire alarm was sounded, which quickly brought the Fire Department and police to the scene. Ambulances were hurriedly sent for, and a corps of physicians came, summoned from every direction. Fireman, policemen, railroad men, and the citizens went to work with coats off to clear away the debris. Many injured passengers were removed and taken to neighboring houses or drug stores, or to hospitals. In this way 18 or 20 persons were got out of the wreck, some of them only slightly injured; others with bones broken and bodies badly bruised and cut. In the signal tower, on the upper floor or observatory, William Baxter, a railroad signal man was at work. On the ground floor Joseph Haley, a young man employed by the railroad company, was engaged cleaning lamps. Baxter, it appears, realized the impending danger in time. He gave a shout to Haley and leaped from the tower to the ground. He broke his arm in the fall and was badly shaken up, but seems to have escaped more serious injury. Haley below, however, was buried in the ruins of the house. When he was disinterred it was found that the timbers had fallen so as to protect him from the bricks and mortar above him. He was badly frightened and bruised and blinded by the lime and plaster.

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