No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 17, 2021

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

February 11, 2014
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The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but
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Strange Company - 5/17/2021

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LOOK OUT FOR "SOAPY" SMITHSt. Louis DispatchSeptember 23, 1897(Click image to enlarge) e reported himself in good health and money."   New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.  Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897. LOOK OUT FOR “SOAPY” SMITH ― The Smooth Man
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/11/2021

Born in 1870 and completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths), the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday this week. What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/17/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The crack of gunfire startled the residents of 88 Merrimack Street, a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, around 10:00, the night of  August 31, 1876. The boarders rushed to Lulu Martin’s room on the third floor, where the shot was fired. The door was locked; they heard a man inside shouting, “Go for the police! She has shot me! I will hold her! Break open the door!”A group of men broke in
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/15/2021

Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/13/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Nature versus Art. | Society Unveiled.

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

Train

California. – The disaster on the Southern Pacific Railroad at Telegraph Pass, January 19th.

[more]One of the most terrible railroad disasters on record occurred on the Southern Pacific Railroad, near Tehachapi, Cal., about midnight on January 19th. The road at this point crosses the mountains through a pass, after having toiled up a grade of 105 feet to the mile for twenty-six miles. While the express train which had left San Francisco the day before was stopping at the station on the summit to detach an extra engine, it broke loose and started down the incline. The train gathered headway quickly, and was soon dashing down the grade at the rate of a mile a minute. At a sharp curve of the road the coach and smoker, where were ahead, broke the coupling and separated from the rest of the train, making the turn safely. The sleeping-cars and the mail, express and baggage cars were dashed against a high bank and then thrown back, rolling down an embankment. The lamps and stove at once set fire to the wreck, which was instantly in a blaze. The passengers in the sleeping-cars had retired, and had scarcely been awakened by the terrible speed with which the train dashed down the mountain before the crash came. A few escaped uninjured, or with only slight bruises, but the rest were either killed outright or burned to death in the flames. The night was intensely cold, and the point where the disaster occurred was a considerable distance from any settlement, so that little could be done for the sufferers until help arrived from Tehachapi.

In some instances a few handfuls of whitened bits of bones were all that remained of what had been a human form, and it was with great difficulty that the remains of several victims were identified. The number of dead is believed to have been thirteen, of whom the most prominent was the wife of ex-Governor Downey, of California, while several other were badly injured.

The disaster was at first attributed to carelessness of the train hands. It was said that the air-brakes had been taken off, and the men who tended the hand-brakes were away from their posts, one attending to switching the engine, and the other relighting his extinguished lamp. The railroad officials, however, declare that the accident was the result of an attempt to rob the express car. They claim that the hand-brakes were properly set by the brakemen, but that, while one of the was escorting a lady to the station, some miscreants let off the brakes and started the train down the grade in order to get it away from help and in a position where the express car could be robbed. Being inexperienced, they lost control of the train, and the disaster occurred. Some support is lent to this theory by the fact that when the train drew into the station two men were seen there who were subsequently found dead in the wreck, and who are as yet unidentified. 


Reprinted from "The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 3 Feb 1883.