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Posts Tagged ‘ashtabula train disaster’

101_0627

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.

101_0629

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.

101_0631

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.

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101_0580

Visitors and caretakers at this cemetery have reported families in 19th century clothing wandering around this obelisk with their luggage. It seems that the victims of the Ashtabula Train Disaster, ripped so suddenly from life, do not realize they are dead and continue their travels in eternity

101_0575

On December 29, 1876, the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway’s No. 5 Pacific Express train traveling from Erie, Pennsylvania, was approaching Ashtabula, Ohio. Despite the bitter cold outside, the interior of the train was warm and bright courtesy of oil lamps and coal-burning stoves, and the passengers were cheerful and in the holiday spirit. Crossing a bridge that spanned a deep gorge, the engineer of the first engine felt a ominous pull as the cars behind him began to fall with the failing iron truss bridge bridge. Somehow, he managed to uncouple the engine but watched helplessly as the passenger cars plunged into the freezing water. Passengers who weren’t killed by impact faced new threats as they struggled to escape the sinking cars: the paralyzing freezing water filled their voluminous winter clothes while fires erupted from the now-broken oil lamps and overturned coal stoves. Help was slow in arriving at the water’s edge down the steep embankment, and an estimated 90 to 100 people lost their lives that night. The exact number of deceased could never be determined due to the lack of passenger records and the fires that burned many bodies past the point of recognition, but scholars believe at least 160 people were on the train.

101_0576

The monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery stands specifically in memory to those unrecognized dead. The names of those known to be among them are engraved on the base of the obelisk. Perhaps they are the warmly clad wanders out of time that can be seen milling around the monument some days, seemingly uncomprehending of their fate.

101_0579

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