Catastrophe on the Connecticut River
April 2, 2017
Waterbury’s on Fire!
April 2, 2017

Leslie’s Illustrated News, May 21, 1853. Connecticut Historical Society. From “What a Disaster,” Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

It was 1853. Trains were a popular and comfortable way for people to get from one place to another.

On May 6, a group of doctors was headed home from New York after the annual meeting of the American Medical Association. At 8 o’clock in the morning, they boarded a train in Manhattan with 150 other passengers. The train was heading to Boston.

The train would have to cross many bridges on its way. Some of those bridges were drawbridges. A drawbridge can open and close. It opens for a large ship to pass as it travels up the river. It must be closed for the train to pass over.

A bridge tender had the important job of opening and closing the bridge. The tender also put up a warning signal to oncoming trains if it was unsafe to pass.

At 10:15 that morning, the steamboat Pacific was headed up river at South Norwalk. The bridge tender opened the bridge. He set the warning signal that the bridge was open. The Pacific passed through.

He began to close the bridge. Suddenly, the train to Boston rounded the curve. The drawbridge was still open!

The train was traveling at 25 miles per hour. The momentum carried the engine over the river into one of the supports that held up the bridge. Every train car except the last one plunged into the river. Everyone riding in the first two cars was killed.

The crew from the Pacific pulled survivors from the water. Dr. Gurdon Russell of Hartford survived the crash. He rushed to rescue and treat the injured. Forty-six people died.

Edward Tucker, the train engineer, was found to have ignored the signal that the bridge was open. He tried to stop the speeding train when he realized that the bridge was open. But he was too late. He survived by jumping off the train before it fell into the river.

Based on “What a Disaster” by Emma DeMar and Elizabeth Normen, Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

Watch a video of the 1912 train wreck in Westport HERE

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