Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another Unfortunate Train Death

Amy Smith

    New Years Eve 1899 has been dubbed, “the saddest day in Farmington, NY history”.  That cold snowy night the entire Smith family, save two, were struck and killed by the midnight express.  Amy Smith and four of her children ages 23 to 7 died that night, only Amy’s husband and a 21 year old son survived.  In those days before crossing gates, tragic accidents like this one were all too common, and well into the 20th century railroad work remained one of the most dangerous occupations.  Some insurance companies went so far as to refuse to issue life insurance policies to railroad employees.

     Several members of my family have also been killed by trains.  I’ve already written about Darby Hogan’s sad death in the post of that name, and that of my great uncle George Power in “Whiskey You’re the Devil”.  Another unfortunate victim was  Minnie Galloway, the older sister of my mother’s mother.  

     The Galloway family lived about three miles outside the sleepy village of Wolcott, NY in rural upstate New YorkEarly one spring evening in 1903, fifteen year old Minnie and her friend Minnie Lent were returning to the Galloway home after a trip into the village.  Taking the shortest route, they started down the railroad tracks.  The girls were in a happy mood, planning a sleepover that night at the Lent home.  As they came to the Milliman Crossing, Minnie Galloway’s foot accidentally became lodged in the cattle guard and she was unable to free it.  In case you were wondering, cattle guards are steel horizontal rails placed in spots cattle were not welcome to trespass, the cattle won't cross them.
Cattle Guard

     At that moment a terrible sound reached their ears, the train whistle in the Wolcott depot, a mile away.  Minnie G. frantically begged her friend to run to the depot and flag the train down, but she was frozen with fear and unable to move.  As the sound of the train came ever closer the girl’s terror grew, in their frantic state neither thought of removing the shoe.  As the train rounded a curve, 200 feet ahead the engineer saw a horrifying sight on the tracks; a young girl struggling to free herself and another, the Lent girl, jumping on and off the tracks in a manic display before she fainted and rolled down the embankment.

     Two hundred feet is nowhere near enough distance in which to stop a rapidly accelerating freight train; Minnie was struck and her body hurled thirty feet.  The local paper reported both her feet were cut off and her shoe found still lodged in the cattle guard.  The crew loaded Minnie’s lifeless body onto the train which backed up to the Wolcott depot with its grisly cargo.  The local coroner was called and after examining Minnie’s body, it was released to her heartbroken parents.  They laid Minnie to rest in Wolcott’s Glenside Cemetery in her family’s plot.
    If you have ancestors who were involved in train accidents, you may find this site interesting  it contains pictures of the wrecks and some articles about them in the US and Canadian northeast beginning in the 1880’s.  Even the Lehigh Valley wreck of 1911 in my father’s old hometown, Manchester, NY is in there.

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