New York, NY Bridge Collapses Into Harlem River, Apr 1899





The wooden scaffolding or false work intended to carry the first shore span of the New Willis Avenue Bridge across the Harlem River collapsed at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon and thirty-five men who were at work on different points of the structure were hurled into the river 40 feet below. Of these four men were killed outright and one will die as a result of his injuries, while nineteen were more or less seriously hurt. J. A. HENDRICK, Superintendent in charge of the work, was at once arrested, and held on a charge of manslaughter.

The Dead:
DELANEY, WILLIAM, sixty-seven years old, of 121 East One Hundred and Ninth Street.
DELANEY, WALTER, twenty-two years old, his son, same address.
BEATTY, JAMES, thirty-five years old, a resident of Springfield, Mass., stopping at Williams's Hotel, Third Avenue and One Hundred and Ninth Street.
GRADY, THOMAS, residence unknown.

The Injured:
PERSHLEY, CHARLES, thirty-one years old, of 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, fracture of the base of the skull; taken to the Harlen Hospital; will die.
BROOKS, EDWARD, a mason, slightly bruised; taken home by friends.
CLAIR, WALTER, 179 Tenth Avenue, cut by flying debris; taken to his home.
DAVIS, JOHN, thirty years old, 136 Willis Avenue.
EWING, G. R., thirty-one years old, of 170 Willis Avenue, seriously injured; taken to the Harlem Hospital.
ELLIN, FRANK W., engineer; cuts and bruises.
GAINES, WALTER, twenty-five years old, of 136 Willis Avenue, ankle bruised and eye injured; taken to the Harlem Hospital and then home.
HILDEBRANDT, THOMAS, 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, bruises; went home.
IRWIN, GEORGE R., thirty-one, 170 Willis Avenue, arm broken; taken to the Harlem Hospital, and then home.
JOHNSON, WILLIAM, 339 East One Hundred and Twenty-second Street, bruises; went home.
LUIN, JOSEPH, thirty-two years old, 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street; head and arms cut; taken home.
LAMB, B., cuts and bruises.
McDONALD, _______, 39 Vandewater Street, arms bruised; taken home.
MEDBO, SIMON, twenty-eight years old, of 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, fractured ribs, contusions of face, head, and shoulders; taken to the Harlem Hospital.
PERRY, JOESPH, twenty-seven years old, 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, foot broken and flesh torn from arm; taken to the Harlem Hospital.
SHEEHAN, DANIEL, twenty-five years old, of 600 East One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street, arm broken and cut seriously in the head; taken to the Harlem Hospital and then home.
SHARKEY, HARRY, 671 East One Hundred and Thirty-third Street, hands cut; taken home.
STANBERG, GEORGE, 600 East One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street, cut slightly; taken home.
WOLF, S. C., thirty years old, 848 East One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Street, scalp wound, contusions; taken to the Harlem Hospital and then home.

Men Had No Warning.
The accident occurred on the Bronx side of the river at a point about midway between the last pier on the shore and the pier in the stream 200 feet distant. Between these piers the wooden scaffolding has been raised, and the workmen were putting on the finishing touches. This wooden framework is forty feet above the river, and consists of a substructure of pilings double-capped with heavy beams.

On the top of this is the platform on which was erected an immense traveling crane or traveler, which ran on rails and was used for conveying material to the men at work on the structure and for carrying the heavy beams upon which the steel work was to be placed preparatory to bolting and riveting it.

At the time of the accident seven of the workmen were standing directly under the traveler and twenty others were on floats under the structure, engaged in putting on additional braces. Between them and the upper structure carrying the crane were eight other men engaged in handling beams.

It was just before 3 o'clock that the men under the crane felt the structure suddenly sinking beneath them. The rails on which the traveler ran parted, and without warming the entire false work and the immense derrick went down with a crash into the river. The thirty-five men at work on the bridge had not a moment's warning of the impending disaster, and all were carried into the river. Even those at work near the shore did not escape, and immediately there was a scene of great confusion.

Six of the men who were at work on the shore end of the bridge ran to the river and began at once to rescue their comrades. The tug Commander, which was passing also put out to the scene and did good work in rescuing the wounded.

Crash Heard For Blocks.
Calls for ambulances from the Harlem Hospital were at once sent in, and the wounded, after being taken from the wreck, were hurried to the hospital. A gana of men with saws and axes went to work at the wreckage, and succeeded in getting out the bodies of the dead men. They were mangled almost beyond recognition, and were taken to the East One Hundred and Thirty-eight Street station house.

The crash of the falling structure was heard for blocks around, and an immense crowd poured out of the surrounding factories and tenements to the scene of the accident. Women shrieked and cried aloud for their relatives and friends, and the crowd became so dense that Capt. MARTENS ordered out the reserves of the East One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Street Station to keep it in check. By this time the patrol wagons and ambulances had arrived, and some orderly work of rescue had been attempted.

A report was soon circulated that a number of men were missing, and it was thought at the time that some of them had drowned. As soon as HOWARD PYLE, the timekeeper on the work, had been calmed, he and Capt. MARTENS began the work of checking off the list of employes, and it was announced last night that all the workmen had been accounted for.

From the nature of the accident it seems remarkable that not more of the men were killed or drowned. Individual cases of bravery were common. As soon as the men were pulled from the river they insisted on turning to and helping in the work of rescue. Some of the fellows were so badly injured that they could hardly move. It was only with difficulty that some of them were persuaded to leave the work of rescue to their more fortunate comrades and go to the hospital.

No Fixed Theory As To Cause.
There seems to be no fixed theory as to the cause of the collapse that can be relied upon as authentic. The workmen area a unit on the subject that the heavy crane was stationary at the time of the accident, but thay say that it was just about to be moved when the collapse came.

WALTER GAINES, one of the workmen, was seen as he was leaving the Harlem Hospital after having his wounds dressed. He said he could account for the accident in no other way than that there were unsuspected quicksands in the river which shifted, and so let down the whole structure. He said he had heard of these quicksands, and the general impression was that the supports were in no shape to sustain the weight put upon them.

Another of the workmen was about to add his opinion to that of GAINES when a stranger who had called a cab at the hospital in which to take the injured men to their homes warned them not to talk upon a subject about which they had so little information. This had the effect of effectually sealing the mouths of the workmen.
Neither the police nor any one connected with the work on the bridge could or would talk freely last night about the matter. That there was criminal carelessness on the part of some one was implied by the action of the police. Capt. MARTENS was guarded on the subject, and said so far as he had discovered the real cause was unknown.

The captain displayed a piece of broken rope about two inches in diameter, which he said had supported the traveling crane. It was his theory that the rope had broken and let the heavy crane down on the false work, carrying the structure with it.

But this theory, however tenable in Capt. MARTENS'S mind, was disproved by one of the workers on the structure, who said that the rope in no way supported the crane. This, he said, was fixed solidly and could not have fallen of its own volition.

The New York Times New York 1899-04-12