No. 479
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 09, 2020

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

February 11, 2014
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The aptly named Christopher Slaughterford hanged on this date in 1709 — condemned, quite possibly wrongfully, for murdering his fiancee Jane Young. Slaughterford owned a maltings at Shalford in Surrey and was known to be paying court to Miss Young when the latter went missing on the evening of the 5th of October, 1703. She […]
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Executed Today - 7/9/2020

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(Click image to enlarge) HE SHOOTING OF HARRY "SHOTGUN" SMITH. Denver's unsolved murder: Number #10 On June 23, 1893, Harry "Shotgun" Smith (no relation) went on a drinking binge and made the deadly mistake of visiting the Tivoli Club and provoking a fight with Bascomb Smith, the younger brother of bad man "Soapy" Smith. Bascomb walked away unscathed. Harry Smith was not
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 6/23/2020

Via Newspapers.com Who doesn’t love a good Demon Cat story? The “Harrisburg Telegraph,” July 30, 1902: Lancaster, July 30. Mrs. Augustus Stiffel, wife of an ironworker, says she is bewitched and lays the blame for her condition on a big black cat. According to her story, the cat, which is as large as a good-sized dog, with eyes like balls of fire, visits her house nearly every night, and
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Strange Company - 7/8/2020
It was a perfect weekend to journey out to Tyngsborough to get a glimpse of what was left of the …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 6/13/2020
Mamie Kelly Fourteen-year-old Mamie Kelly of San Francisco, had a crush on the boy next door, nineteen-year-old Aleck Goldenson. Though Aleck was the kind of boy who appeals to teenaged girls—an artist and a bit of a hoodlum—her family had no use for him at all. In spite of this, Mamie took every opportunity be near him. Aleck first enjoyed her attention, then tolerated it, then actively
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Murder By Gaslight - 7/4/2020

New York once had lots of neighborhood doughnut places, and this stamp-size shop on Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay keeps the tradition alive. Also known as Shaikh’s Place, Donut Shoppe still has the original sign installed by the shop’s first owner decades ago. The shop has diversified over the years, adding to the menu tacos, […]
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Ephemeral New York - 7/6/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Nature versus Art. | Society Unveiled.

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

Train

California. – The disaster on the Southern Pacific Railroad at Telegraph Pass, January 19th.

[more]One of the most terrible railroad disasters on record occurred on the Southern Pacific Railroad, near Tehachapi, Cal., about midnight on January 19th. The road at this point crosses the mountains through a pass, after having toiled up a grade of 105 feet to the mile for twenty-six miles. While the express train which had left San Francisco the day before was stopping at the station on the summit to detach an extra engine, it broke loose and started down the incline. The train gathered headway quickly, and was soon dashing down the grade at the rate of a mile a minute. At a sharp curve of the road the coach and smoker, where were ahead, broke the coupling and separated from the rest of the train, making the turn safely. The sleeping-cars and the mail, express and baggage cars were dashed against a high bank and then thrown back, rolling down an embankment. The lamps and stove at once set fire to the wreck, which was instantly in a blaze. The passengers in the sleeping-cars had retired, and had scarcely been awakened by the terrible speed with which the train dashed down the mountain before the crash came. A few escaped uninjured, or with only slight bruises, but the rest were either killed outright or burned to death in the flames. The night was intensely cold, and the point where the disaster occurred was a considerable distance from any settlement, so that little could be done for the sufferers until help arrived from Tehachapi.

In some instances a few handfuls of whitened bits of bones were all that remained of what had been a human form, and it was with great difficulty that the remains of several victims were identified. The number of dead is believed to have been thirteen, of whom the most prominent was the wife of ex-Governor Downey, of California, while several other were badly injured.

The disaster was at first attributed to carelessness of the train hands. It was said that the air-brakes had been taken off, and the men who tended the hand-brakes were away from their posts, one attending to switching the engine, and the other relighting his extinguished lamp. The railroad officials, however, declare that the accident was the result of an attempt to rob the express car. They claim that the hand-brakes were properly set by the brakemen, but that, while one of the was escorting a lady to the station, some miscreants let off the brakes and started the train down the grade in order to get it away from help and in a position where the express car could be robbed. Being inexperienced, they lost control of the train, and the disaster occurred. Some support is lent to this theory by the fact that when the train drew into the station two men were seen there who were subsequently found dead in the wreck, and who are as yet unidentified. 


Reprinted from "The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 3 Feb 1883.