June 20, 1888
AN AWFUL PLUNGE.
A Train Goes Though the Railroad
Bridge at Rockport Into Green
River Below -- Description of
the Horrible Scene.
List Of The Mangled And Dying
Rockport, Ky., June 18, 1888. It seldom falls to the lot of letter-writers to tell a more awful story of disaster and death than is mine today. Except in point of number of dead and wounded it is, in all respects, one of the most horrible occurring in recent years. Yet I must be brief, as even a drink of water, given to a dying man, is worth all the most thrilling and graphic description ever penned.
Last Saturday evening, precisely at nine minutes before four o'clock, the east-bound freight train, No. 16, consisting of engine and tender, two loaded coal-cars, and the caboose pulled upon the bridge across the river from the west. In the caboose were five men, in the cab two, and on the bridge, waiting for the train to pass, was one.
When the train was well on the first span, suddenly and without the least warning one hundred and eighty feet of the bridge gave away with a terrible crash, precipitating the whole train, except the caboose, which fell upon the bank, into the river a distance of nearly forty feet below. Language could not describe this horrible and distressful scene. You must see it, to fully realize such a blood-curdling disaster. The fearful noise electrified the town, although just such a calamity was not altogether unexpected to many, as the bridge was believed to have been unsafe for months and months. Down into this chasm of death, with tons on tons of wrecked timber and iron the eight men were hurled. That a single one even lived a minute afterward is miraculous. A hundred willing hands were soon at work digging mangled bodies from the wreck, and it was not long till the hotel was turned into a hospital of groaning men writhing in agony. Two were found in the water feebly clinging to floating timber, and five inside the crushed caboose. The following is a brief list of casualties:
A colored brakeman named Coleman from New Albany, Ind., was in the cab with the fireman, and sank with the engine to the bottom of the river and was drowned. His body has not been recovered. Indeed nobody seems to have tried to recover it. He had just counted his money, $175, and was in the act of returning it to his pocket, when the crash came.
The fireman, Henrv Friz, Central City, who was running the engine at the time, held to the throttle when the reaction washed him out of the cab, and he rose to the surface when he swam to floating timber, and held on till taken out. Strange to say, his wounds are perhaps less serious than any in the wreck. He got off with a strained back, cut on right knee, and lacerated finger. He certainly held on to the throttle, however, as long as there was any earthly use of hanging.
Tom Fogle, bridge watchman, who had flagged the train over, and was waiting for it to pass, fell with the immense pile of debris into the river, and was taken out more dead than alive. His wounds are very serious as compression of the spinal cord is indicated besides a severely strained back and many bruises.
Engineer Phil Carroll, Louisville, was found in the caboose, and was carried out with a compound fracture of left leg, dislocated wrist, deep scalp wound and strained back, besides many bruises. The chances are that he will never recover, as amputation will be necessary, and he has already borne more than most men could bear.
John Compton, conductor, Louisville, was chopped out of the collapsed caboose and carried out. He is perhaps fatally injured. His face was bruised to a jelly, his thigh fractured, hips crushed, left ankle dislocated, back strained and injured internally.
John Love, yard master, Central City, who was in the caboose, was carried out almost dead. He was seriously hurt, and may not recover, though there are strong hopes this morning. His right wrist was fractured, several fearful scalp wounds, and back strained. His suffering has been most acute and distressing, but he is it man of powerful constitution, and I hope will soon recover.
S. F. Bennett, pump repairer, of this place, next to the fireman, was most fortunate. He got off with a scalp wound, which addled him for awhile, contusion on one leg and several severe bruises.
The colored brakeman, named Austin, (of) McHenry, was found to have a deep and ugly puncture in the back, which though very painful, is not supposed to be dangerous.
This completes the list, and the wonder is that it was no worse. All displayed great fortitude and seemed most grateful for aid and sympathy.
Compton, Carroll and Austin were removed to their respective homes by special train, which left here Sunday at noon.
Doctors Jackson and Maddox went promptly to work and stayed with their patients like men of skill and sympathy. Every assistance possible was rendered by our kind and anxious citizens.
A special left Louisville as soon as they got the wires, which were torn down, to work, bringing several of the higher officials, but no physicians except Dr. Slayton from Leitchfield. The latter's coolness and skill is a credit to his profession. Dr. Munnell, of Paducah, Chief Surgeon, arrived at 6 o'clock Sunday morning. Doctors Bohanan and Slayton, Greenville; Rhorer and Warren, Central City; and Smith, of McHenry, were also on hand.
Scores and scores of people from all parts of the county visited the wreck during Sunday. Ono hundred men are working night and day clearing away the wreck, and the work of rebuilding is progressing rapidly. Piles will be driven in the river upon which false work will be built, and no doubt, trains will be passing over within a week. In the mean time, regular transfers will be made across at the ferry, connecting with trains at Pain Town. Many incidents of interest might be related, had I time, but I'm too much hurried to make them entertaining.
"There's a special providence in the full of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come, if it be not to come, it will be not now, yet it will come."
Lon Milner and Monroe Herald were sent down on the western division, and were ordered to return on the fated No. 16, but owing to the fact that a train was discontinued on that end, they failed to make connection, and by this their lives were perhaps saved.
The passenger train bearing two hundred precious lives, passed over this bridge only a few hours before it fell. Very, very often ladies come over from Central City on this train for a pleasure trip, but none were on that evening.
Misses Rosine Taylor, Prentice, and Minnie Howard, and Alec Cairnes and Hiram Howard were in a skiff on the river that evening. When No. 16 whistled for the bridge, Hiram rowed the skiff right under the span that afterward fell, but on the protest of the ladies, rowed out before the train went through. Thus it is, "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate."
P. S: As I mail my letter, Fogle, Love and Bennett, especially Love are much better. Bennett thinks there was another man on the train, who has not been found, but as others think not, he must have gotten off at Nelson Station.