Norwalk Rail Accident
At 08:00 that morning the Boston express left New York with 200 passengers under the charge of a substitute driver for whom this was the third trip on the route.
The train comprised two baggage and five passenger cars. On approaching the bridge he neglected to check the signal and only became aware that the bridge was open when within 400 feet of it. The bridge had been opened for the passage of the steamship Pacific which had just passed through. The driver applied the brakes and reversed the engine but was unable to stop in time, he and the fireman leapt clear before the bridge and escaped serious injury. The engine itself flew across the 60 foot gap, striking the opposite abutment some 8 feet below the level of the track and sinking into 12 feet of water. The baggage cars came to rest on top of the locomotive, the front of the first passenger car was crushed against the baggage cars and then submerged as the second passenger car came to rest on top of it. The third passenger car broke in two; the front half hanging down over the edge of the abutment; the rear remaining on the track. Most of the 48 dead and 30 injured were in the first passenger car, a further 8 people were reported missing.
Many doctors were travelling on the train, returning from the Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association in New York; seven of whom were killed. Amongst the unhurt was Dr. Gurdon Wadsworth Russell who wrote an account of the accident for the Hartford Courant in which he says that the dead "presented all the symptoms of asphyxia from drowning, and were probably drowned at once, being confined and pressed by broken cars. Oh, what a melancholy scene that!".
As a result of the public panic and indignation caused by the accident the Connecticut Legislature enforced a law compelling every train in the state to come to a dead halt before crossing any opening bridge. The engineer was charged with gross negligence and held primarily responsible for the disaster.
The nineteenth century in America shall be memorable through the ages of futurity for its appalling catastrophes and and sacrifice of human life. Sights of horror and bloodshed pass before us with the frequency of shifting scenes in a stage tragedy. Last summer, accidents involving a frightful loss of life, trod upon each other's heels. The burning of the Henry Clay, the bursting of the Raindeer's boilers, the falling of the Staten Island ferry bridge, spread repeated gloom over the community. The present year, however, is in advance of the past. The loss of the steamer Independence with 125 lives, of the Ocean Wave with 25 lives, and the collision on the Central and and Southern (Mich.) railroads, with the loss of 15 lives, are followed by the running of a train on New Haven railway through a Draw bridge over Norwalk harbor, by which upwards of sixty human beings have been hurried into eternity.
The 8 o'clock train for New York, ran off the draw-bridge into the river, near this place. One car was completely submerged and two others completely demolished. There has been a terrible loss of life. The excitement is so great that it is impossible to get a list of the killed or injured. The engine went through first, followed by two passengers cars. The 4th passenger car split in two, one half of which was thrown into the river, and the other half caught on the draw.
10 P. M. Thus far, 49 dead bodies have been recovered, and two of the injured have died; 18 others are seriously injured, and three dangerously. Among the lost is the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Griswold.
There are probably ten or more dead bodies in the creek. Most of the bodies recovered were those of physicians who had been attending the medical Convention in this city and were on their way home. The conductor, Mr. Comstock, was in the second car, but escaped with many bruises, but not dangerous wounds. The express agent escaped badly wounded. The bodies which have been recovered are much disfigured, and recognition is in many cases difficult. The wounded have the same benefit of ample medical assistance. The mails and most of the baggage has been had been saved in a damaged condition.