The Angola Horror
The bridge crossing the Big Sister creek is about a quarter of a mile east of the village of Angola.
The train to which the accident happened was two hours late, having been detained by a broken bridge on the Cleveland & Toledo railroad. It was composed of three first class coaches filled with passengers, and a smoking car and two baggage cars, and was under the conductorship of MR. FRANK SHERMAN, of this city. Silver Creek was the last station stopped at prior to the accident, and
Angola was passed about 3 o'clock, the train going at the speed of about 20 miles an hour. Everything was apparently all right when the bridge was reached, and when the train had crossed half way over a fearful jerk was experienced by those on board, and the next moment the rear coach was detached and went plunging off the bridge. The brakes were at once applied, but before the train could be stopped the coupling of the second coach had become broken and it too got off the track and rolled down the embankment, landing on its side at the bottom. So suddenly had all this happened that not one of the inmates of either of the two coaches had time to make their escape, and without a moment's warning some 40 or 50 persons hurried into the presence of their Maker.
The car which first went over the precipice took fire instantly, and before any person could get to it the flames made rapid headway, and in a few moments was all ablaze. Those persons on the spot proceeded to render all the assistance they could, but only some four or five persons were saved from the burning car. The remainder, some 40 or 50 men, women and children, were consumed. How many perished in the burning car it is impossible as yet to say, and very probably will not be known for some time.
It was mid-winter and cold, and, as was the custom then, the car was heated by two iron stoves, placed one at each end, in which wood was burned. It was nearly full of passengers. Naturally they all sprang from their seats in terror and confusion as their car left the rails, so that when it fell from the bridge and violently struck on one of its ends, they were precipitated in an inextricable mass upon one of the overturned stoves, while the other fell upon them from above. A position more horrible could hardly be imagined. Few, if any, were probably killed outright. Some probably were suffocated; the greatest number were undoubtedly burned to death. Of those in that car three only escaped; forty-one are supposed to have perished.
The train concerned was formed of so-called 'compromise cars' which were originally designed to allow freight trains to run on both the 4 ft 8½ inch gauge of the New York Central Railroad as well as the 4 ft 10 inch gauge of the Lake Shore Railroad, but this allowed three eighths of a inch lateral movement on the latter creating instability. As it neared the truss bridge over Big Sister Creek just east of Angola at 3.11 it ran over a 'frog' (the crossing point of two rails); the front axle of the rear car was slightly bent and the frog caused a wheel on the defective axle to jump off the track, derailing the rear car which began swaying violently from side to side. The brakes were applied but the train was still travelling at considerable speed as it crossed the bridge. The last car finally uncoupled from the train and plunged down into the icy gorge. The second to last car also derailed but managed to make it across to the other side of the gorge before sliding 30 feet down the embankment; only one person was killed in this car.
The passengers in the last car were not so fortunate. It fell fifty feet and came to a rest at a 45 degree angle. The passengers were thrown together at the end of the car onto the overturned stove, while the other stove fell upon them from above, releasing hot coals. The carriage immediately caught fire; the fuel from the kerosene lamps fueling the flames. Only two people escaped alive from the carriage; some may have suffocated but the majority were burned alive. Witnesses spoke of hearing the screams of those trapped inside lasting for five minutes.