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Providence and Worcester Railroad Collision, 1853
Two trains crashed head-on along the Providence and Worcester Railroad at Valley Falls, RI on the morning of August 12, 1853. The collision happened due to the southbound train being a couple of minutes late to the junction where both trains could pass side-by-side. The northbound train had actually stopped at the junction to wait, but proceeded when it appeared the track up ahead was clear. The conductor of the southbound train, Frederick W. Putnam, was blamed for the wreck for being two minutes behind schedule, and pressed the engineer to increase speed. But critics blamed the railroad company for hiring an inexperienced conductor and supplying him with a poorly functioning watch.
This was the first train wreck to be photographed, using a daguerreotype taken by a Mr. L. Wright of Pawtucket. The photograph formed the basis of an engraving a fortnight later in the New York Illustrated News. The wreck also happened during a year when train disasters reached an all time high. This was the 12th wreck in the United States that year, and newspapers had reported it with phrases like, "Yet Another Terrible Railroad Collision", and "More Slaughter by Railroad". Editors began publishing running-death tallies to fear of Americans.
The Providence and Worcester Railroad Collision had become "the last straw" that spurned government officials and railroad companies to use precise timepieces and to implement procedures to eliminate timing errors.
Names of deaths and injuries below were taken from The New York Times, published August 13, 1853. The Times appeared to have published the most detailed accounting of this wreck of any newspaper. The northbound train left Providence, RI heading to Worcester, MA. The southbound train left Uxbridge, MA heading to Providence. Most of the deaths and injuries occurred on the southbound train due to its higher speed. The southbound train included an excursion party of factory operatives from Whitinsville, MA who had planned to board a steamer ship to watch a sailing regatta.
Below is a word-for-word transcription from the Times...
The names of all the dead have not yet been ascertained. The following however, have been identified:
Mr. FINNEY, Pastor of Grace Church, Providence
JOHN PERKINS, of Uxbridge, the fireman of the Worcester trains. He leaves a wife and two children.
The wife of S. S. MALLORY, of Central Falls
W. WOOD, of Northbridge
Mrs. PLANT, wife of GEO. PLANT, of Whitinsville
PETER PLANT, son of GEORGE PLANT
A. CHARLESWORTH, of Whitinsville
Mrs. CAROLINE RICHMOND, wife of JOHN RICHMOND
PETER ROGERS, of Milford, and his brother
Mr. GOLDTHWAITE, of Uxbridge
The other name are yet as unknown
The following are the names of the wounded, so far as know:
1. Mr. GOLDTHWAITE, of Uxbridge, has had his arm amputated at the should joint, and his recovery is very doubtful. His arm was torn off, and he was otherwise badly injuried
2. Mr. SOUTHWICK, Superintendent of the Providence and Worcester Railroad, sustained but very slight injury.
A boy, name unknown, about 5 years old, had an arm torn from his body. Recovery doubtful.
4. FRANCIS RIST, of Whitinsville, was badly hurt about the head.
5. HOSEA BALLOU, of Ballouville, was severely injuried in the head.
6. Mr. STEWART, of Cohitinsville, was dangerously injured about the head.
7. MARTIN V. JEFFERSON, a brakeman, had a leg broken
8. DANIEL CANTY, a painter, was slightly injured
9. JOHN BROWN, of Cohitinsville, had four ribs broken
10. JOHN MARVALL, or Northbridge, had a leg broken and his back hurt.
11. MOSES BOLTON, of _____, was fatally injured.
12. GEORGE BOLTON, of Cohitinsville, was fatally injured.
13. J. CRANE, of Whitinsville, was badly hurt.
14. SCHOULER, (or SCHOULER WHITE,) of Whitinsville, was badly injured
15. RUTH S. GLADDING, of Pawtucket, was slightly injured about the head.
16. Mr. PLANT, of Whitinsville, was severely, if not fatally, injured
17. FRANCIS GRAY, of _____, had two ribs broken.