Shelburne Falls, MA Train Wreck, Apr 1886

A Passenger Train in Massachusetts Plunges 200 Feet Down an Embankment.

The Cars Take Fire and a Passenger is Roasted Alive Without the Chance of Succor.

Probably a Hundred Passengers on Board, and only Three Found Uninjured - The Rails Spread.

A Dozen Dead Bodies Recovered and the Work Not Yet Finished - Many Killed While Falling.

GREENFIELD, Mass., April 8.- A terrible disaster occurred on the Fitchburg railroad last night midway between Bardwell's ferry and West Deerfield Station, the east-bound passenger train, due at Greenfield at 6:05 p. m., going over an embankment 200 feet high. Six bodies have already been taken out of the ruins, and it is not known how many others were killed. The train was the Eastern express, and consisted of a baggage-car, a smoker, a sleeping-car, mail-car and two ordinary passenger-cars. The train was in charge of Conductor Foster, with Herbert Littlejohn as engineer. The point where the accident occurred is the most dangerous on the road. The train runs on the edge of an embankment two hundred feet above Deerfield river. The bank is steep and covered with huge bowlders [sic] and masses of rock. When the train arrived at this point the track commenced to settle under it for a distance covering its entire length. The coaches broke from their trucks [sic] and rolled over and over down the precipice. The engine broke from the tender, tearing up the track for twenty feet. Below rolled the Deerfield river, on the very edge of which the cars were thrown. As soon as they struck they caught fire from the stoves.

The sleeping-car was an entire wreck. It was occupied by several passengers, not one of whom, at this hour, is known to have escaped injury. One man, whose name is unknown, is imprisoned in the wreck of the sleeper, where he is being burned alive. One little girl was picked up dead.

As soon as the news reached Greenfield a special train was made up and sent to the scene of the disaster, having on board several physicians, section men and a few citizens. On arriving at the scene of the wreck a horrible sight was witnessed. Darkness had settled over the spot. Far down on the river bank could be seen the smouldering [sic] embers of the holocaust. It was impossible to tell who was hurt and who was killed. Stout-hearted trackmen were lowered cautiously down the treacherous height and the work of rescue began.

Merritt Seely, superintendent of the National Express Company of Boston, was found in the wreck and taken into the relief car. He had a would four inches long and half an inch wide over his left temple. His left thigh was broken and also his left leg at the knee, beside which he sustained internal injuries from which he will die.

W. D. Crandall, postal clerk, was plunged into the river and got ashore with difficulty. He was wounded about the head and his arm was fractured.

The Fitchburg coach was the only one that escaped the conflagration. Deputy Sheriff Bryant, of Greenfield, who was in this car,


but one was dead and the other dying. Their parents were on board but cannot be found. Some of the injured and dead were taken to Shelburne Falls and some of the wounded to Greenfield.

C. P. Bell, of Nashua, N. H., was cut slightly on the head and leg, but not seriously hurt. He was thrown head-foremost into the river and went to the bottom, barely escaping drowning.

Conductor Foster is reported safe and [b]ut slightly injured.

D. C. Wells, of Andover, had his shoulder hurt and his head cut. The car in which he was riding was broken in two and stood on end within a few feet of the river bank.

Nicholas Dorgan, of Greenfield, had his left arm and ankle broken and was seriously injured internally. A little girl, who was a passenger on the train, died in his arms from injuries received.

J. E. Priest, of Littleton, N. H., had his face and head cut.

Engineer Littlejohn, of North Adams, was badly scalded, it is believed fatally.

A. K. Warner, chairman of the Greenfield board of selectmen, was badly hurt, but his injuries are not fatal. Great excitement prevails all along the road between here and North Adams. Being interviewed by wire last night at Shelburne Falls, Conductor Foster said: "I am unable to state how many were on the train. Only three men have thus far been found who escaped injury, and they set the number of passengers all the way from twenty-five to one hundred."

No doubt half a dozen were


and as many more were fatally injured. The west-bound express was delayed at Greenfield and West Deerfield two hours, while a relief train with surgeons and their assistants was sent out on its time. The locomotive is a complete wreck, but remains on the track, while its tender is down the bank.

The following persons were taken to Shelburne Falls, more or less injured:

H. G. Littlejohn, brother of the engineer, with wife and two children, both of whom have since died; A. D. Cornen, Allen Lewis, E. B. Stowe, A. C. Harvey, of Boston, badly hurt; J. P. Fowler, A. R. Warner, of Greenfield; H. C. Couillard, of Charlemont; E. W. Dunnells, of Waltham; Miss Darby and May Gowing. A Miss Cornell is badly hurt, as is Mail Agent Putney. A. W. Watterhouse, is missing.

It was reported in Shelburne Falls that thirteen were killed outright, but this was not verified. Fears are entertained that the list of deaths and casualties will be greatly increased as the work of recovery progresses. A portion of the mail is reported lost in the river. It is learned that the number of injured at Shelburne Falls is nineteen.

LATER.- Engineer Littlejohn is dead. Henry Couillard will die before morning. Three more dead bodies have been found in the wreck.

The train at the time of the accident was running at the rate of about twenty miles an hour. Frank Lane, of Boston, salesman for a New York firm, jumped from the train, and is believed to be the only person who saw the train go down the embankment. He says there were three passengers in the drawing-room car.



Thank you for posting Ken!

Thanks for posting this! I had been searching for info on how Charles H. Durgin died out in Shelburne Falls on Apr 7, 1886. Now I have all the details. He left a wife Mary (Johnston) Durgin and two little daughters, Clara Isabelle, and Mary Lissie Durgin. Sadly, his wife died just a few years later on 28 Sep 1891 in Belmont, MA.