Friday, February 22, 2008
The 1909 Train Crash
“Great White Fleet” was returning to Norfolk after a 14 month, 43,000 mile journey. The squadron was manned by 14,000 sailors. President Theodore Roosevelt had sent them on this journey to show the world the might of the United States. Many relatives wanted to be in Norfolk to greet the returning sailors and four different trains were proceeding south from Philadelphia to Norfolk on February 22nd.
The second of those trains on entering the northern outskirts of Delmar plowed into two engines that, for unexplained reasons, had been left sitting on the main track. At 3 a.m. in the morning the train derailed killing seven people and destroying most of the train. The crashed train consisted of the locomotive, express car, mail and baggage car, three day coaches and six Pullman sleepers.
The train cars telescoped on impact into one another and the hot coals from the destroyed locomotives scatter back on to the wrecked cars sitting them on fire. The fire ignited the gas tanks that were on each car for the gas lights in the cars which added to the inferno. The fire made it impossible to rescue the men and their bodies were severely burn. Those that died were; William Cochran, mail clerk, George Davis, Engineer, Robert Davis, Mail Clerk, John McCreary, baggage master, Oliver Perry, express messenger, Harry Wilhelm, mail weigher, J. W. Woods, mail clerk.
There were other non-human victims of the fire. The train carried a comedy company going to Norfolk that had trained dogs and monkeys. They were all burn to death in the baggage car. The best known trained animal however was Princess Trixie. Trixie was a 20 year old, pure white, trained Arab horse that was a principal attraction at the 1907 World Fair in
Jamestown Virginia. The horse and trainer, Lewis Brockway, traveled on the Keith Vaudeville circuit. The horse was billed as the smartest horse in the world. I have not been able to find information on why this was the smartest horse in the world but I have the impression the horse did more than count to four and was in the same group of trained horses as
Lady Wonder, and Clever Hans of the Elberfeld horses, which could accomplish feats of mind reading.
Lewis Brockway, the trainer, was penned in the baggage car under Princess Trixie who was screaming and kicking to get out from under the crumpled car. Charles H. Smith, from Delmar, pulled Lewis Brockway from the car moments before it exploded into flames. Princess Trixie was burned to death. The horse was buried on railroad property a short distance form the wreck. I do not know where the grave is. A faded photo of Trixie is shown in this post. It was found near the grave and according to a 1959 Bi State Weekly article was the property of Mrs. Hattie Duffy.
The New Yorks Times carried an article about this accident and it is located here
New York Times Article
Hauling away wreckage from the 1909 train wreck