Fate, they say, is a cruel mistress. The ghost of Charles Collins may be more acutely aware of that than most. Charles Collins was the chief engineer for the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway – the man who helped Amasa Stone design the fatal bridge and who inspected it very soon before the accident. In the ensuing investigation, he was heavily interrogated about his role in failing to prevent the disaster. And, the newspapers reported, one day after testifying, Charles Collins returned to his room and put a gun to his head. And that is how the story has come down to us. One of the two primary villains of the Horror was conveniently dead, and the public seemed to feel that his blood was some small payment for the destruction he caused.
In fact, investigators at the time saw all the signs of a homicide rather than a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But at the time, allowing Collins’ death to go down on the books as a suicide resulting from his feelings of guilt was the more politically expedient choice than attempting to identify the murderer of a highly unpopular man.
Collins’ family laid him to rest in the mausoleum in quiet Chestnut Grove Cemetery, mere miles from the disaster that seems to have precipitated his death. And then in 1895, the monument to the unrecognized dead was placed in the cemetery in the exact same section, almost next door to the Collins’ mausoleum. Cemetery visitors occasionally report a repentant, weeping man wandering that section. If ghosts do exist, it appears that Charles Collins can never escape his culpability for what happened outside Ashtabula in that gorge on a freezing December night. He and those who his negligence killed seem destined to haunt the same piece of hallowed ground, their fates permanently entwined.