Graceland, NJ Train Wreck, Jan 1903


Twenty-Two Bodies Dug Out of The Ruins Up to Noon.

People Burned Alive by Flaming Cars While Husbands, Fathers and Friends Stood by Powerless to Aid Them---Dying Engineer Confess He Was to Blame.

NEW YORK, Jan. 28.---Up to noon today the total loss of life by last night's train wreck on the Central railroad of New Jersey, at Graceland, N. J., was believed to be 23. Of these 13 bodies had been identified and 10 were held at Plainfield for identification. From the wreckage 21 bodies were taken, and two men, W. E. DAVIS, engineer of the Reading express, and THOMAS McCARTHY, fireman, died in a hospital today. More than 50 persons were injured, some of them very severely. The hospital reports today, however, that with perhaps one or two exceptions, all will recover.

The blame for the accident is placed by the railroad officials on Engineer Davis of the Philadelphia & Reading express.

The scenes of the wreck were unusually horrible. The cars were splintered almost to kindling wood, hot coals from the engine fire box poured out and the wool was soon burning fiercely.

In all, 22 bodies were taken from the wreck. But 13 corpses have been identified. Eight of these were citizens of Plainfield.

A policeman who aided in the work of rescue made this statement today concerning Engineer Davis: "I assisted in carrying Engineer Davis from his engine. He was terribly injured. He said, 'I am responsible for the accident. I saw the danger signal but expected it to turn white.' "

The statement made last night that it was the Royal Blue express of the Baltimore & Ohio train in the wreck.

The wrecking crews at work began to clear the tracks and get out the bodies, and were assisted by hundreds of persons from Westerfield, Cranford, Plainfield and other places, who had been brought to the scene of the collision. Big bonfires were built of the wreckage and of old railroad ties to light up the scene and enable the men to see to work.

More than a thousand people remained on the spot all night and there were many pitiful scenes as bodies were dug out and recognized by relatives and friends. C. P. THAYER, who was killed, was secretary to Senator Platt.

A train with the bodies of 13 victims of the wreck arrived at Plainfield at 6:35 o'clock this morning. Many of them were not recognizable. The people of the city were in a frenzy of grief. All sorts of rumors were afloat and it was reported that the number of dead would reach a hundred or more.

The majority of the dead and injured were either residents of Plainfield or lived in neighboring towns, and were well known. Many of them were wealthy commuters who had places of business in New York. It is known that more than 50 persons were injured but many of them, after they had their wounds dressed, left for their without giving their names.

Stories of dreadful incidents accompanying the collision were numerous. The engine drew the express car with it and plowed half way through the rear car of the local before it came to a standstill.

Bodies were crushed against the front of the locomotive, on the pilot and on the crownsheet, and could only be removed after the firemen had drenched the locomotive for two hours with water and cooled off the plates.

The train which was run into left New York at 5:45 and runs as an express to Bound Brook, making stops at Elizabeth, Westbrook and Plainfield. Beyond Bound Brook it runs as a local.

The Central train left 15 minutes later, but travels at a higher speed and makes no stops except at Elizabeth, and is scheduled to overtake the slower train just beyond Graceland, where the latter switching from track No. 3, into track No. 4, to permit the Central to pass.

A freight train was blocked on track No. 4 and the local received orders to proceed on the express track to Dunnellen and there take the outside or No. 4 track. Shortly after receiving orders the train had to stop for a hot box, which caused delay so that when it got under way again it was due at Dunnellen.

The dead taken to the morgue at Plainfield are:

DEGAR WILLIAMS, a New York lawyer.
C. P. THAYER, of Plainfield, secretary of Thomas C. Platt.
HARRY PATTERSON, of Dunnellen.
GEORGE F. REED, of Scotch Plains.
EDWARD FLYNN, of Plainfield.

The list of injured at the hospital in Plainfield is as follows:

Edward Clark, Samuel Sampson, Miss Lizzie Cutter, William Dunn, George Force, Howard R. George, Miss Mildred Everett, Mrs. D. U. Cumming, E. M. Brokaw, Miss Cora Brokaw, Frederick [ineligible], all of Plainfield; Roy Apgard and William Frederick, of Dunnellen, N. J.

Others known to have been injured are:

William Geddins, Dunnellen, both legs broken; Joe Chandler, spine injured; Charles Longworth, injured all over body; Mrs. Belch, both legs broken and body crushed; James F. Clark, Philadelphia, probably fatally injured; Mary Ryan, injured about the head; William Van Vonter, cut about body and face; Everett Reighton, both legs cut off, cannot live; Miss Lizzie Kellat. scalp torn off; Percy Irving, Dunnellen, leg crushed; Mrs. Q[ineligible], bruised about body and head; Thomas Cuming.

In addition to this list, there are many charred bodies unidentified still at the scene of the wreck.

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 28.---A number of Philadelphians who were on the express last night arrived here today. M. M. Reinhardt, a salesman said:

"I was in my day coach. My car was the second in the train. We were going at least 60 miles an hour when I felt a terrific shock and was thrown from my seat, as was all the others in the car. The first shock was followed by a second almost as hard as the first, and then we came to a stop. There were on each side of our car the split halves of another car that we had literally ploughed through. Before I could get out a train from Philadelphia passed the wreck of our train and the one we had run into. The wreck was thrown back upon us and caught fire."

Charles Herman said: "The accident occurred at 6:35 p. m. Three persons, inextricably wedged in the burning wood, slowly burned to death while the other passengers were unable to render them any aid. We then quickly tore the seats from the cars piled them up against the wreck and strove to rescue all the living we could. Several of the escapes were remarkable. Two men were sitting together with only a slight cut on the ear, the other being terribly mangled. A husband and wife, also sitting together, were thrown high in the air and lighted on top of the car. When we reached them she was holding up the man, she being virtually uninjured, but he was in a very bad way."

Olympia Daily Recorder, Olympia, WA 28 Jan 1903