Chatsworth, IL Train Wreck, Aug 1887
A HORRIBLE SUSPICION.
WAS THE BRIDGE FIRED?
CHATSWORTH, Aug. 12. -- Sensational features were developed this morning as to the cause of the Chatsworth wreck. Rumors were afloat last night that it was due to robbers who fired the bridge, but little credence was given them. This morning, new facts, apparently showing the catastrophe to be the work of an organized band, come to light, and the company find them worthy of serious investigation. Superintendent Armstrong said to an Associated Press reporter that the more he investigated the more it appeared to him that the bridge had been set on fire. Burned grass in its immediate locality was not of a nature that seemed likely to admit of the bridge catching from it. He had observed many thieves at work, had stopped them while despoiling the wreck of property, and many instances of robbing of the dead were being brought to his attention. The excursion had been extensively advertised and the time it would pass over the bridge was well known.
Citizens say a gang of suspicious fellows have been hanging around Chatsworth for some days. Many of these were found early at the wreck, paying more attention to relieving bodies of valuables than to caring for them otherwise. Train men and passengers had frequent contentions with the vandals. In one instance, Superintendent Armstrong found a well known thief in the depot room, where property taken from the wreck was stored, and ordered him out. While the people of the town have done all in their power for the sufferers, there is a horde of tramps and thieves in this vicinity who do nothing but carry off anything they can get their hands on.
TESTIMONY AT THE INQUEST.
At the morning session of the coroner's jury some decidedly significant testimony was given. TIMOTHY COUGHLIN, section foreman here, testified that he had four men helping him on his six and one-half miles. He received orders on Wednesday to go over his section and see that the bridges and track were all right. COUGHLIN then went to the east end of the section and burned the grass along the track for half a mile. He burned a place a little over half a mile from the wreck and put the fire out. He examined the bridge about five o'clock and found no smoke about it and it was otherwise all right. About three weeks ago the grass under the bridge had been cut away for ten feet from the bridge timbers, and he had no idea how the bridge could have caught fire.
CHRISTOPHER ENNIS, roadmaster for the line from the state line to Peoria, said he went over the road on Wednesday from Fairburg to Gilmar. He went over the fatal bridge just before 4 o'clock in the afternoon. He was on the rear end of the can and saw that the bridge was all right. There was no fire or smoke about the bridge. ENNIS said: "My opinion is that the bridge was set on fire by somebody. My train was the last train over before the special, and if there was fire there the men would have discovered it. The bridge could have been burned in two or three hours. About three years ago two attempts were made to ditch the ten o'clock passenger train at that bridge and we kept a watchman there for six weeks. Obstructions were piled on the track. It is very lonesome, far from any house."
THE SUSPICION DENIED.
CHICAGO, Aug. 13. -- The Inter-Ocean's Chatsworth special says: Members of the state board of railroad and warehouse commissioners arrived here this afternoon from Springfield. On their arrival at the fatal bridge they found that the wreckage had been entirely cleared from the track and new rails laid across the break. The commissioners remained there for an hour and a half, and then drove to Piper City to see the wounded. In the evening they returned to Chatsworth and read over the evidence taken by the coroner. People who have carefully examined the scene of the disaster, take little or no stock in the theory of the railroad people that the bridge was set afire by vandals who desired to rob the killed and injured. None of the survivors who escaped early from the wreck saw any strangers at the scene inside of an hour. Some of the residents near Chatsworth think there were thieves on the train who took advantage of the wreck to ply their trade. The grass along the north side of the track at the bridge is long and some of it is dry, but there was no sign of fire having burned it. Grass along the south side had not all been burned a week ago, as claimed by the section boss. There was dry grass and weeds very close to the bridge, but the wreck had so torn up the earth in the immediate vicinity of the bridge that it is impossible to learn whether the grass was burned along the south side of the bridge. The country here had been without any rain for nearly eight weeks and grass and dead timber was as dry as tinder. A spark might have started a blaze, and it is possible that the fire may have been set a going by a spark dropped from the firebox of the engine drawing the roadmaster's inspection train, which passed over at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The fire was burning brightly at 8:30 in the evening, but when the train approached was very faint, according to the story of Engineer SUTHERLAND. It is claimed by some of the residents near the place that they saw smoke in the direction of the bridge as early as 5 o'clock in the afternoon.
EXCURSIONISTS CAN GO ON.
FORREST, Ill., Aug. 12. -- The T. P. & W. will resume the regular running of its trains to-day, and have arranged with the Pan Handle and Grand Trunk roads to honor Niagra excursion tickets, so that many of the uninjured excursionists who are desiring to do so may continue on. In round figures Superintendent Armstrong estimates the damage to rolling stock to be $30,000.
The Quincy Daily Whig Illinois 1887-08-13