New York, NY Underground Trains Wreck, Feb 1891


The New Haven Local Run into a Line of Empty Cars at Eighty-fifth Street, New York, a Little After 7 o'clock, Dealing Death and Destruction – Names of the Rescued – Fire Breaks Out and Increases the Horror of the Calamity – Vain Cries for Help – A Furnace Raging Beneath Park Avenue.

There was a serious collision in the tunnel of the New York Central road at Eighty-fifth street, in New York, in the fog this morning. Six persons were killed, one was seriously wounded and several others slightly.
The deadly car stove was the chief factor in the holocaust, as the wreck took fire from the stoves before the wounded could be rescued, and they were burned to death.
The wrecked cars belonged to a shop train of nine passenger cars belonging to the New York, New Haven and Hartford road, the only line entering New York which retains car stoves. The cars were being drawn up to the storage yards at Mott Haven. There were twenty to thirty car cleaners on the train, among them one woman, going up to the Mott Haven yards, and one young newsboy. This train was making its way slowly through the dense fog when it was run into by train No. 10 of the New York, New Haven and Hartford line, a local train, running at full speed. The two rear cars of the shop train were telescoped and the engine of No. 10 was badly smashed in and battered. The New Haven passenger and baggage cars were drawn back to the Grand Central station and the passengers were sent forward on the 8 o'clock express. A light New York Central engine on the down track ran into the wreck while it was on fire and traffic was blocked for two or three hours. The cause of the accident is still in dispute and an official investigation will be necessary to fix the responsibility.
Flames burst from the wreck immediately after the cars were telescoped, and the agonizing cries of the imprisoned and burning ones were heard for blocks on the streets above, bringing great crowds to the scene. Two alarms of fire and two ambulance calls were sent out at once and several engines quickly responded as well as ambulances from the Presbyterian hospital on Seventy-sixth street, and Bellevue.
Below in the tunnel the screams of the scalded and burning ones continued, and when the firemen got down to the sufferers an appalling sight met their view. Through smoke and fog flames were darting forth, and crushed and pinioned under debris indescribably were those who had been in the rear car of the shop train which had crunched fully one-half its length into the car ahead.
Superintendent McCOY of the New York Central road says he has no doubt that the signals were correct and that FOWLER ran by them.
Under the engine with his legs burning and held down by a mass of snarled and twisted irons was the men HINCKE, who subsequently died in the hospital. “For God's sake let me die here,” he cried. The smell of burning flesh was sickening, but the firemen heroically fought their way to the man and finally released him, though he continued to beg for death. Streams from the engines were not long in quenching the flames, but the confusion attending the escape to the street of the uninjured or but slightly injured ones impeded the rescuers in their work, and it was many minutes before the others could be extricated from the wreck.
Father WALKER of St. Lawrence's Roman Catholic Church, which is near the scene of the tragedy, was early on the spot, and with Police Surgeon McGOVERN bent over the burned ones as they were brought out seeking for signs of life. New volunteers with axes came into the tunnel and the debris was hewed quickly away in the search for bodies. The first to be brought out was that of a boy about 17 years old and his disfigurement was truly horrible. A huge piece of his cheek was torn out, his jawbone was broken in half and dangled with every movement of his body and every bone appeared broken. He was lifted to the street and placed in the dead wagon and then came in succession three men, their bones protruding through their clothing, their faces charred and blackened and great holes in their heads. One of the men's legs was burned almost completely off and the arms of all were twisted into every manner of shape. Again the fire started in the cars and the firemen had to desist from their search for bodies for some time. The body of a woman was next brought to the street and then the tunnel filled up with anxious ones in quest of relatives employed on the road until the police were forced to charge them back. The dead woman is supposed to be MRS. NELLIE SUPPLE of 589 Third avenue. She was one of the cleaners and she usually took that train. Her son, LESTER, went to the Eighty-eighth street station, where the dead body was taken. He looked at the body, but it was so badly burnt that he could not recognize it as his mother. Nevertheless, it is more than probable this it is MRS. SUPPLE. Her son made search for her this morning in every place she would likely to be, but failed to find her. MRS. SUPPLE was 40 years old, and has been employed as a car cleaner for over two years. Her son is also a car cleaner.
Telegraph Operator CHARLES JACKSON, who is stationed at the One Hundred and Tenth street depot, stated to an Eagle reporter that he was on the spot soon after the collision occurred. The shop train was telescoped and the two rear cars almost entirely demolished. Soon after the accident fire broke out in the demolished cars of the empty train. The tunnel was so full of smoke that very little could be seen. After the engines and a platoon of police arrived they set to work to rescue the people who had been pinioned in the wreck and were slowly being burned or crushed to death. The first body that was found by the firemen was that of a colored cleaner. His body was mangled and bruised about the head and face. One of his arms had been severed from the body and he was hardly recognizable when they managed to extricate his body from the wreck. The next body that was found was that of a boy apparently 16 years of age. His skull was crushed in and a terrible wound appeared over the right eye. After these two bodies had been put into the morgue wagon the firemen succeeded in finding three other bodies.
The men were taken from the wreck and their bodies were burned and charred terribly. It was entirely impossible to recognize them at all. The body of a woman who was engaged in cleaning one of the cars was taken from the ruins, and her frame was mangled and rent in a dozen different places. Parts of the body were burned to a crisp and the only thing about her person that would serve to identify her was a small gold ring. Soon after the accident occurred the passenger train was hitched on to another engine and brought back to the Grand Central depot.
The front of the engine was entirely demolished, and Engineer FOWLEY, although not seriously injured in the accident received slight injuries of the back. Fireman WELLINGTON was not injured, although half of the engine of the New Haven train was imbedded[sic] in the wreck. The first part of the shop train was brought to the Mott Haven depot, and the work of clearing the tracks was begun.
Two of the injured in the accident were brought to the Presbyterian hospital and two others were brought direct to the Grand Central depot. JOHN HENCKE, 19 years of age, a wiper employed by the company, died at exactly 12 o'clock. His two legs were crushed and his body mangled in several parts. The deceased resided at 349 West Fifty-ninth street.
The other victim of the accident that was brought to the Presbyterian hospital was DANIEL COLEBERT, colored, 28 years of age, who was employed as a cook on one of the trains. He resides at 107 East Forty-fourth street. He is not injured seriously and the hospital physicians state that his recovery is positive. He was overcome by the smoke and but for the timely rescue he would have burned to death.

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