The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876 - Chapter 14
Darrell E. Hamilton
The monument to the unrecognized dead of the Ashtabula Bridge disaster was unveiled on Thursday, May 30, 1895. In reality, it serves as a head stone to the unrecognized dead of the train disaster.
Among the twenty-five names engraved in the monument are the famous hymnal writer, Philip Paul Bliss and his wife Lucy. Many more are buried there as some of the names of some of the victims could not be obtained. Among them could be the bodies of at least three black victims, a black man traveling in the baggage car and a young black couple traveling in one of the passenger cars.
For many years there was nothing to mark the resting place of the unrecognized dead of the train disaster. In the year of 1892, T. W. McCreary, then proprietor of the hotel James, started a concerted action which led to the organization of a monument committee and eventually to the erection of a stately shaft thirty-five feet in height. The members of the committee were James L. Smith, president; T. W. McCreary, secretary; Lucien Seymour, treasure; Norris W. Simons and C. E. Richardson. Norris Simons was ticket agent on duty the night of the disaster. Through his letters, a great deal of information on the train disaster has been shared throughout this column. Norris W. Simons was my wife's (Sharon L. Hamilton) great-great uncle.
A systematic plan of soliciting funds was inaugurated and among the first to respond were President William McKinley, Mrs. James A. Garfield, Evangelist Ira D. Sankey and many other notable persons were represented in the fund. Many people came from distant states to witness the unveiling, which was performed on Decoration (Memorial) day, 1895, and was witnessed by at least 5,000 people. The ceremony was preceded by an imposing street procession. The speakers at the service were Harry A. Garfield, James H. Hoyt of Cleveland and Prof. P. B. Dodge of Berea College.
The locomotive "Socrates", which was the front locomotive of the ill-fated train that succeeded in breaking away when the crash came, was on exhibition the day of the unveil-ing. A special temporary siding was built, in a cut next to the cemetery, on which the loco-motive, then known by the number 360, stood all day.
The locomotive was decked out in appropriate colored trimmings, among which was a large American flag that W. S. McKinnon had borrowed from the streamer Norman, which left Ashtabula Harbor that night of the disaster and was lost. Engineer Carlos D. Graham was in charge of the "Socrates" that day.
The monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery was not the only memorial to the train disaster. A bell that once hung at the old Lake Street fire house near 32nd Street, was used to call the fire fighters to the burning wreckage. The 200-pound bell, cast in solid bronze in 1854, is now anchored in front of the fire station on Main Avenue. The bell today looks much as it did at the time of the disaster in 1876.
The bell was donated in 1975 by Mrs. Lena Schlacter of Mt. Clemens, Michigan, a former Ashtabulan. Funds for a plaque commemorating the bell were solicited by then fire chief Charles Mosier.
Fire Chief Charles Mosier and Francis Herzog
The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876 - Part 15
Darrell E. Hamilton
Over the years many cities have claimed to have the last living survivor of the train disaster of 1876. The stories have came from New York to California. One unverified report has some of the last living survivors living as far away as England and Australia. But, who was really the last living survivor of the Ashtabula train disaster?
Many years after the disaster, many cities claimed to have the last living survivor of the Ashtabula train disaster. Of course not all of them could not have had the last survivor. I do have my doubts that none of them actually had the last survivor.
Just one of the many claims came from an article from an Erie newspaper in 1925. James F. Hunt was the fireman of the locomotive, "Socrates". He was but nineteen years old that fateful night but had already worked for the railroad for three years. He was not the last living survivor of the train disaster but he could have been the last living survivor of the disaster that worked for the railroad.
Another "last survivor" claim came from Cleveland, Ohio. Sister Mary Eugene was one of the oldest sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. She had served St. Vincent, Charity, St. John's and St. Ann's hospitals in Cleveland. However, she too was not the last living sur-vivor of the train disaster.
Probably the mos interesting "last survivor" of the train disaster was Harry Ells-worth Bennett of Philadelphia, Pa. Mr. Bennett was a candy butcher, as it was called in 1876, on the Lake Shore, Michigan & Southern Railway. He sold newspapers, magazines, cigars or any other items that might interest passengers or employees on the train. By the way, he also sold candy.
On the night of the disaster, he was badly injured. A lady ask him for help to save her husband. At first he declined saying he was too badly injured to help anyone. Going away from the fire, he kept hearing the screams of the injured passengers and the lady scream-ing in vain to help her injured husband. He went back to help the woman and her husband was saved. Harry himself was so badly injured that he had to be pulled up the side of the gulf on a sled.
After being taken to one of the hotels in Ashtabula for medical care, the doctors transferred him to a hospital in Cleveland. Mr. Bennett's condition was so grave that he spent ten months in the hospital in Cleveland. While he was there, a railroad adjustment agent came to see him. Seeing the condition of Mr. Bennett, the agent, thinking that Harry would not live long anyway, offered him a dollar a day for the rest of his life. Not much in today's terms but considering that most men never even made a dollar a day in those days, it was a tidy sum. The agreement was made and Harry eventually got out of the hospital. He regained the use of his legs and was able to see out of one eye that he had left. But, Harry didn't die as the railroad adjustment agent thought he would. Instead, he kept on living and living and living.
I traced down Harry Ellsworth Bennett to the age of 102. At the time he had collected over $24,000.
Mr. Bennett was a life time vegetarian who smoked 10 cigars a day, enjoyed a daily glass of beer, shooting pool, going to the baseball games in the afternoon and playing a little poker or rummy in the evening. His favorite pastime was going to Washington Square and watching the pretty girls.
Mr. Bennett eventually moved to New York City in 1942. I have not been able to track down the obituary for Mr. Bennett at press time. However, I do have an unverified report that he lived to be 107. That would mean that he would have been living in 1947 or 1948. However, he was not the last living survivor of the train disaster.
Effie Neely was on board the train that night with her boyfriend who reportedly was to become her husband. They were returning from Niagara Falls when the disaster occurred. He was killed but she lived through his heroics.
Effie Neely died at the age of 101 in Troy Township, Geauga County, Ohio in 1960. She is buried in Jackson, Ohio where she was also born.
Effie Neely was the last living survivor that I could find at this time. However, she may not have been the last survivor. Effie Neely was eighteen when the disaster occurred. However there were children and infants on board that night that did survive the train disaster. Many of them in 1960 would have been in the 80's and as young as 83. Unfortunate-ly, the passenger list did not list the names of most of the children. They were only listed as children of their parents. For this reason, I can not say who the last living survivor of the train disaster was. Maybe someday I'll find the time to research more on the disaster and find the real answer. That is if I to live to be 107.