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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

November 1892: PA train explosion makes NYC headlines

I thought I had found all the newspaper accounts of the Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania train accident that killed my great-great-grandfather. But I'd never thought to look as far as the New York Times.

Thanks to a heads-up from Colleen of the The Oracle of OMcHodoy and thanks to GenDisasters transcriber Linda Horton, I learned that the fateful explosion that took the life of William Cowhey and four other men that day made news as far away as New York City.

GenDisasters, a site started last October, is a forum for sharing and finding newspaper articles on "events that touched our ancestors' lives". The site has a handy search feature and can also be browsed by state (or Canadian province), year or type of disaster. You can also add comments or more information to the articles posted.

Check out the transcription of the New York Times article on the November 14, 1892 train explosion that took William Cowhey's life at the GenDisasters' webpage Pottsville, PA Locomotive Boiler Explosion, Nov 1892. Here is the text of the article:



POTTSVILLE, Penn., Nov. 14.---On the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at 2 o'clock this morning, at Conner's Crossing, a short distance north of Schuylkill Haven, the boiler of Mogul Engine No. 563 exploded, killing five men and probably fatally injuring another.

The killed are:
HENRY C. ALLISON, engineer, residing at Palo Alto; leaves wife.
WILLIAM MACKEY, fireman, Port Carbon; leaves wife and one child.
WILLIAM COWHEY, an engineer, on way home to Mount Carbon; leaves wife and ten children.
WILLIAM KENDRICK, conductor, of Port Carbon; leaves wife and four children.
WILLIAM MOYER, Cowhey's fireman, Palo Alto; single.
Michael Dobbins of Mount Carbon, a brakeman of Engineer Cowhey's crew, was badly scalded, and will probably die.

Engine No. 563 was north bound with a heavy train of empty cars. William Cowhey with his crew had brought up a train of empties, and, after running them into the Cressona yards, boarded Engine No. 563 at the Mine Hill Crossing with the intention of reaching their homes in that way, and as is customary took possession of the cab. Dobbins, who escaped instant death, was sitting on the tender.

The men had been on the engine barely two minutes when, without any warning, the terrible explosion occurred. The boiler and firebox were blown off the tracks, and the tracks were so badly damaged that traffic was considerably delayed. The north and south bound midnight Buffalo trains were compelled to run via the Little Schuylkill branch from Tamaqua to Port Clinton.

It is learned that the train had come to a standstill because of the lowness of steam and the blower had been on. It was during this process that the boiler exploded.

Company officials thoroughly examined into the cause of the accident, and this was made plain this afternoon when they loaded up the crown sheet and sent it to Palo Alto. On the crown sheet is unmistakable evidence that the explosion was caused by low water, as the iron is badly burned a deep blue color and the marks show just how high the water was. All railroad men after seeing this acknowledged that there was no other cause.

The New York Times, New York, NY 15 Nov 1892

I've posted the following on the GenDisasters page using the comments feature:

William Cowhey, the engineer on his way home at the time of the November 14, 1892 explosion mentioned in this New York Times article, was my great-great-grandfather from Mount Carbon, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. A Union veteran of the Civil War active in the Grand Army of the Republic's Gowen Post, his tragic loss must have been greatly mourned by his wife Margaret (Foley) Cowhey, his many children and the citizens of Mount Carbon and Pottsville.

For more on William Cowhey and the history of his family see my blog
Small-leaved Shamrock. For more specifics about the fateful accident, including similar articles about the disaster in Schuylkill County newspapers, see the post entitled Riding the Rails.
I know that train accidents at the time were nothing new, and these men were certainly not celebrities. Was it just a slow news day that caused the New York Times to post this article back in November of 1892?

Whatever the reason, the article provided some new information on this sad day in the history of my family. I'm thankful to have found it.

Source: Linda Horton, “Pottsville, PA Locomotive Boiler Explosion, Nov 1892,” transcribed February 1, 2008, Gendisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives (Gendisasters, 2008) [“Five Killed by an Explosion: Engine on the Reading Railroad Torn to Pieces,” from The New York Times, November 15, 1892], <http://www3.gendisasters.com/pennsylvania/5006/pottsville,-pa-locomotive-boiler-explosion,-nov-1892>, accessed February 26, 2008.


Lidian said...

What a terrible tragedy - so interesting to have the Times coverage though. I will have to go have a look at GenDisasters, thank you for mentioning it.

Anonymous said...

I came across your site. I was a Kelly from Mt. Carbon, my grandmother was a Hohman. My family had worked at the brewery for a couple generations. I just thought I would let you know. In fact, my great-grandfather was injured at the brewery. I do remember Cowheys that lived up the street from us. We were at 17 Main St., the road that now leads up to Forest Hills.

Patricia Kelly Quinn

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Hi Patti -

Thanks so much for your message. It is nice to hear from a "neighbor". I hope you'll enjoy reading some of the historical info about Mount Carbon and Pottsville that I've shared at Small-leaved Shamrock. If you have any stories to share, I'd love to hear them!


Unknown said...

Very sad, I'm just resonding to this article Because of the recent episode of the dead files TV show mentioning the disaster. I work in cressona.


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