Ashtabula, OH Train Wreck & Bridge Disaster, Dec 1876
The Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster (also called the Ashtabula Horror or the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster) was a train disaster caused by bridge failure. It was, at the time, the worst rail accident in American history (succeeded by the Great Train Wreck of 1918) when it occurred in far northeastern Ohio on December 29, 1876, at 7:28 p.m.
One or perhaps two of the bridge designers later committed suicide. The disaster helped focus efforts to draw up standards for bridges including adequate testing and inspection.
The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Train No. 5, The Pacific Express, left a snowy Erie, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of December 29, 1876. As The Pacific Express plowed through the snow and crossed a bridge over the Ashtabula River, about 100 yards (90 m) from the railroad station at Ashtabula, Ohio, the passengers heard a terrible cracking sound. In just seconds, the bridge fractured and the train plunged 70 feet into the water.
The lead locomotive "Socrates" made it across the bridge, while the second locomotive, "Columbia" and 11 railcars including two express cars, two baggage cars, one smoking car, two passenger cars and three sleeping cars and a caboose fell into the ravine below, then igniting a raging fire. The wooden cars were set aflame by kerosene-heating stoves and kerosene burning lamps. Some cars landed in an upright position and within a few minutes small localized fires became an inferno.
The rescue attempt was feeble at best because of the ill-preparedness of the nearby station to respond to emergencies. Of 159 passengers and crew on board that night, 64 people were injured and 92 were killed or died later from injuries sustained in the crash (48 of the fatalities were unrecognizable or consumed in the flames). It is unclear how many died of the fall, separate from the blaze. Matters were made worse by the heavy snow the area had just received.
The famous hymn-writer Philip Bliss and his wife lost their lives in the disaster.
Twenty years later, in Ashtabula's Chestnut Grove Cemetery, a monument was erected to all those "unidentified" who perished in the Ashtabula Railroad disaster.
Read articles (below) about the deadly Ashtabula, Ohio Train Wreck & Bridge Disaster.