Left: Monument at
Chestnut Grove
Cemetery about 1900

Right: Monument 2002 - Charles Collins'
vault in background
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.