Chapters 4 & 5
Ashtabula Train Disaster
Bridge before disaster
                                Bridge after disaster
The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876 - Chapter  4
by
Darrell E. Hamilton
       The fire was out of control as buckets of water were useless against it. People screaming could be heard all over the valley and up the banks into the village of Ashtabula.
       The famous spiritual song writer,  Rev.  Phillip P.  Bliss  was also on board the train that fateful night. Earlier that evening, with his wife at his side, they were singing to the passengers the last song that he had written , "I Know Not The Hour".
        Rev.  Bliss  had  fought  in  vain  to  save his  wife  to  no  avail.  He could not free her. He emerged  from  the  flaming  wreckage  smoldering.  He  turned  and then looked back at the wreckage.  He took a deep  sigh  and  then  said  in  a  quivering voice, " I will perish with my wife." He then walked back into the flaming wreckage to be with his wife, forever.
        The  howl  of  a  poor  wounded dog  that  was  on  board  the  train, echoed  through  the valley.   The  dog's  howl  became  intensely  pitiful.  It  was  at  last  saved  but  was  severely burned. The poor dog was the last survivor pulled from the wreckage.
       The horrid cries and wails turned into groans. The last voice coming from the wreckage was a woman's moans.  Then all the moans and groans stopped.  The  only  thing  that could be  heard  was  the  crackling  of  the  wood  in  the fire. The stench of burning flesh could be smelled all over the valley and was beginning to seep over into the village.
         The  injured  and  dying  were  helped  up  the steep snow covered steps by a brigade of men.  The  nearest  structure,  other  than  the  engine  house  located  on  the  bank,  was the "Eagle Hotel". The first eleven of the injured were taken there.
         The  first  eleven were the "unlucky survivors". The Eagle Hotel was a horrid place with a  dirty  bar  room.  The  rooms  had  never  known  carpet.  The  little  rooms  were just large enough to hold a bed and wash stand. There were no stoves  in the room.  The  beds  consist-ed of filthy sheets and miserable straw ticks.
         Other injured passengers were taken to better hotels. When the rooms were filled,  they were laid on the couches in the lobbies. Some were laid on the counters of stores.  The lucky ones were taken to private homes.  Some  ended up in the Ashtabula House still standing at the corner of West 46th St. & Main Ave.
           The injured who were unable to walk were placed and tied to a sleigh and pulled up the side of the banks. They were the last of the injured to be brought up.
           As   the fire began to burn itself out,  darkness  began to fill the valley.  The dead lay in every direction amid the driving snow.  A skull lay by itself amid a blackened heap, whiten-ed by the fire. Other bodies lay with their eyes burned out of  their skulls.  Heaps  of  bodies, mostly women and children,  lying in the sleeping coaches were still burning.  The  delicate form  of  a  mother  lay  beside  her  little  child. Both were reduced to mere black lumps that scarcely  resembled  human  form.  Arms,  legs  and  skulls  lay  strewn amidst the wreckage. Other bodies lay completely cut in half with no sign of the other half.
       By midnight, most of the survivors had been brought up from the Gulf.  By 1:00 a. m.,  the railroad officials arrived from  Cleveland  with five surgeons.  Ten  village  doctors and sur-geons worked all night on the injured in a small house.  Broken  limbs  were  usually  ampu-tated as medicine was still in its infancy.
        Some  of  the  more  severely  injured  were  taken  to  one  location  where  ten  surgeons crowded  into  a  small  house.  Among the severely injured  were the  engineer  and  fireman from the second engine  whom  surprisingly  survived  the  fall  to  the  bottom  of the gulf in their locomotive.
        As the surgeons worked all night, the crowds  began  to  disperse  and  the  streets  grew deserted. The bodies at the bottom of the Gulf  lay alone in the darkness, unguarded.

The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876 - Chapter 5
by
Darrell E. Hamilton

        Not  long  after  midnight,  quietness  had begun to  settle down upon the disaster scene. The  streets  were  all  but  deserted  with  the exception of some wolves. These were no ordi-nary  wolves. Ordinary wolves would  not go near a fire. A fire that still burnt in places with a blue flame. A fire that had cooked skulls so severely that brains were seeping from the eye sockets.  Fire,  darkness,  or  such  horrid  death did not frighten these wolves. These wolves were more greedy than any other breed of wolf or vulture.  These were the human wolves of Ashtabula.  Actually, it  is an insult to compare the thieves of the night to a wolf. A wolf  has more pride and dignity to their own than what the  thieves of the night  did to the dead and living that night.
         The thievery had actually begun on the living earlier that evening.
         A  young man, who had just lost both mother and sister, was suffering from four broken ribs and a  severe gash to  the  head.  As he looked up and saw a few men standing up on the banks watching him, the thought of robbers crossed his mind.  He  had  a  valuable  watch, a present from his father, and two money purses.  One  contained  fifty dollars in bills and the other a few dollars in change.  He also carried his dead mother's jewelry.  As  he  thought  of thieves,  he  turned  around  with his back to the crowd and dropped his watch down inside his shirt.  One  of the money purses he placed in an inside vest pocket and the other was left in the pocket of his pantaloons.  His mother's  jewelry was carefully placed inside his under garments.
        He was helped to the top of the bank  by  a  kindly  gentlemen who was doing his best to assist the injured and dying. At the top of the bank he handed him over to another man.  He had been taken a very short distance when the man that was helping him rammed his hand inside the boy's vest in such a manner as to cause him severe pain.  The  pain was so intense that he passed out. He was left lying in the snow in the dark.  When  he  regained conscious-ness, he had been robbed of  almost everything including his train ticket  to  California.  His mother's jewelry which he had thought he had cleverly concealed was gone. The only thing that the thieves had overlooked was his gold pocket watch.  He  was  at last taken to a hotel where he had the sad duty to telegraph  his  father  in  California  the  horrible  news  of  his mother and sister.
        Other conscious survivors were also robbed in the same  manner.  However,  the  uncon-scious survivors were not spared of anything of value.  Some  even  had  parts of their cloth-ing removed.
        One  young man,  who  had  a huge splinter of wood from the car he was riding in driven through his shoulder,  was robbed of $300 in the Eagle Hotel where he lay. Another man had his boots taken off and stolen from him while he lay unconscious. Anyone who was wearing any article of clothing of any value was subject to thievery.
          Once all the living had been taken out of the Gulf, the dead were left alone. The human vultures  began to descend upon the wreckage. Almost everything that wasn't destroyed by the wreck or the fire was taken. Some of the thieves actually wore black masks to hide their identity from the other thieves.
          One gentleman, whose body was not charred by the fire,  carried  a  pocket book inside his  clothes  firmly  attached  to  his  body.  When  his  body  was  found, his pocket book was found beside him, empty. It had contained $7,000.
           Scarcely  anything  of value was left after the thieves had descended on the wreckage. Trunks  containing  the  wardrobes  of  new  brides  were taken along with the trunks of the wealthy. Some of these trunks belonged to the survivors in the village. For some, the trunks contained all their worldly possessions.
           Most  of  the charred bodies were not identified. Had the thieves not robbed the bodies of  their  jewelry,  most  could  have  been  identified and not buried in Chestnut Grove Cemetery  as  one  of  the  unrecognized  dead.  Rev.  Phillip  P.  Bliss,  the famous spiritual hymn writer, was among the unrecognized dead.
           The fire  burned all night while the thieves worked at the bottom of  the  Gulf  and  the doctors worked all night trying to save the survivors.
           The  terrible destruction was not fully realized until the next morning.  Many  went to bed late that that night waking up in the morning  thinking  it  was  an  awful  dream  while others in and around Ashtabula had not heard of the awful destruction.
           The  train  wreck  was  not  fully  realized  in the dark.  Everyone, including the people who had been at the scene the night before, were about to feast their eyes on the worst train disaster in United States history.