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Charles River Wreck (1862)

On November 21, 1862, a strange accident occurred at the drawbridge near North Station in Boston. Due to inadequate signals of that time, a southbound Boston & Maine Railroad train from Reading drove off the open drawbridge and plunged into the Charles River. Thankfully, the train had stopped at Charlestown, and was traveling very slowly before it fell into the water.

The engine, tender car, and baggage/smoking car plunged over the open draw with the remaining passenger car stopping just shy of the precipice. The bridge is located at the mouth of the Charles River, and it was high tide when the accident occurred. The water was reportedly 60 feet deep, likely due to dredging for large ships. The engine and tender were fully submerged in the water, with the passenger car partially sticking out of the water. Five people were killed, with two others possibly as they were initially reported as missing. An interlocking signal system, alerting train engineers that the next signal on a line will be red, was proposed and eventually implemented after the accident.

 

The November 26, 1862 New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette describes the accident:

"Terrible Railroad Accident – On Friday morning, a terrible accident occurred on the Boston and Maine Railroad at Boston by which five persons were killed and a number of others injured. The Post says: –

The first train from South Reading which consisted of a locomotive and tender, a baggage and smoking car in one, and two passenger cars, was proceeding at a slow speed between the depot at Causeway street and Charlestown, when it came to the draw spanning Charles River. At the time it was quite foggy and dark, and to this state of the atmosphere was added a hard rain. A schooner was passing through the draw as the train approached, a fact which could not be discerned until too late to arrest its progress.

The usual alarm was given by the whistle and bell upon the locomotive, and the proper signals were out, but the locomotive and tender, and the baggage and smoking car were precipitated into the watery chasm below. The tide was nearly full at the time and the depth of water some sixty feet. There were about twenty five passengers in the smoking car, and the utmost consternation prevailed as the terrible concussion was realized.

The locomotive and tender plunged beneath the water, but the smoking car was not entirely submerged, which accounts for the comparatively small sacrifice of life. The engineer, Simeon Garland, and the fireman, Edward Christy, on discovery of their imminent peril at the very jaws of death, at once leaped from the locomotive, and thereby saved their lives. The brakeman and baggage-master, Charles E. Richardson, remained at his post and was instantly killed, his body being crushed between the smoking and passenger cars, and was found beneath the latter car. He belonged in Reading.

The other persons killed were Justin E. Holt, R. H. Dyer, John Rafferty, and Harvey C. Taylor, all of Somerville.

 

The November 27, 1862 Farmer's Cabinet also describes the wreck:

Fatal Railroad Accident

"A serious accident occurred on the Boston and Marne Railroad, near the depot in Boston, Friday morning, by which several persons were killed and others seriously injured.

The train was the first one to come [to Boston that morning]. It was from South Reading, and consisted of two cars, one a smoking and baggage car. The train made the customary stop on the bridge over Charles River, but on approaching the draw the engineer discovered that it was open. The engine was reversed, and the alarm sounded which caused the brakes to be put on, but it was too late to stop the whole train.

The engine and tender were precipitated into the water, out of sight. The smoking and baggage car also went over, and was almost entirely submerged. The passenger [car] was considerably smashed up, although it stopped a little short of the draw.

The engineer and fireman escaped very narrowly, by jumping from the train. The faithful baggage master and brake man, was killed at his post. His probably instantaneous. His name was Charles Richardson, and he resided in Reading. He was a single about 22 years of age.

The morning was unusually dark and soggy, rendering it impossible for those on the train to see the condition of things. We understand the signal light was put up to warn the engineer of the danger, but the latter says he did not see it on account of the fog. All the officials on the train are believed to be faithful and careful men.

At the time of the accident a large number of passengers jumped from the cars in the water. Some were saved from drowning by the vessel that had just gone through the draw, and others by clinging to the framework of the bridge. Several of those who jumped off were hurt, and one man who was standing on the rear platform of the passenger car was thrown off, and his head badly cut.

It was a frightful time. All succeeded in breaking out and getting ashore except five. Four dead bodies have been taken from the ruins and one is missing."


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