1864 Railroad wreck

This past Friday, Oct. 19, Danny Clemons and I went to visit cemeteries in Charlestown, N.H. In Hope Hill Cemetery we found an interesting grave for James Allen that read: Locomotive Engineer Killed by RR Collision on the Vt. & CRR, near Brigham’s Crossing May 20, 1864, AE 37 yrs, 10 months & 20 ds.

Below is an account published in the Rutland Herald soon after. I will have a few comments following this newspaper article.

James Allen grave in Charlestown, N.H. Photo by Ron Patch.

“Shocking Railroad Accident

  “The St. Albans Messenger gives the following particulars of the railroad accident which occurred on Friday between St. Albans and Swanton, and of which mention was made in our telegraphic on Saturday morning.

  “As the morning express, which should have reached here at forty-three minutes past eight was turning the curve just west of Brigham’s Crossing, it came in collision with a train loaded with stone, running out on the new road some three miles further down. The stone train was running down-grade and quite fast, while the express train, being a little behind time, was running with unusual rapidity. Both engineers and firemen jumped from the trains, which flew together with terrible momentum. The shock and crash were heard two miles. The tender to the engine of the stone train, which was backing at the time, was thrown completely over the engine, carrying away the cab and smokestack and falling upon the car behind. The other engine was driven upon this where it now lies as nicely posed as if it had been placed there purposely. The baggage car was driven into the passenger car, the front end of which was demolished.

  “There were but a few passengers on at the time and only a single car, which accounts for there being so few injured. Only three were injured. Edward Gay of Albany, struck by corner of the baggage car on the head, partially stunning him, and giving him an ugly gash on the forehead and face. Ellen Boyan of Ireland, bruised about the head and another woman whose name we did not learn nor the nature of her injuries. Allen, the engineer on the stone train was instantly killed. Edward Shattuck engineer on the express train had leg broken and was otherwise injured.

  “Matthew Strutters, brakeman, stood upon the front platform of the passenger car and was crushed between the cars. He is in great pain, and there are but faint hopes of his recovery. Several others received slight bruises, but none serious.

  “Mr. Allen the engineer of the stone train, who was killed, is said to have been running his train out of time, and the blame is attached to him. He was a man of good habits, cool temperament and generally trustworthy. He leaves a wife and two children at Northfield.”

As Danny and I stroll through these old cemeteries, we enjoy the fall weather and crisp air. We spend a lot of time reading these old epitaphs, trying to place ourselves in the day and time.

When we stumbled onto Allen’s grave, we paused as we read the epitaph wondering how and where James Allen died. Finding the answer, we now understand this solemn grave.

Imagine Allen as your brother, father, or husband being blamed for this tragic accident, and he not being alive to defend himself and offer his version of events. Danny and I take a lot of satisfaction in bringing these long forgotten individuals to life.

At the base of Allen’s grave in small script are these words undoubtedly from his wife: “Thou art gone, my loved companion, and thy loss is deeply felt.” There is nothing I can add to these few words.

I didn’t have a book on the VT & CRR nor was I even aware of it, so I called Tom Hildreth. Tom got back to me with information he found. The VT & CRR was a small railroad in northwest Vermont. The line ran from the Canadian border at Highgate to Essex Junction. It was part of the intense competition between the Vermont Central (White River Junction to Essex Junction) and its archenemy, the Rutland and Burlington. It was originally to run to Burlington, but went to Essex Junction instead, avoiding contact with its competition.

I don’t know of a word that describes what Danny and I do in these cemeteries so I invented one. “Cemeterying.”

This week’s old saying was under my photo in my 1969 Chester High School yearbook. “I gave up trying to understand people a long time ago. Now I just let them try to understand me.”

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