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The Hatfield Train Wreck in 1900

Updated on June 18, 2012
From an unknown photographer -  Printed in a book by Floyd Frederick published by the Perkasie Historical Society.
From an unknown photographer - Printed in a book by Floyd Frederick published by the Perkasie Historical Society.

On 2 September 1900, on a foggy Sunday morning, a heavy excursion train bound for Atlantic City, New Jersey and a milk train bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania collided on the Reading and Philadelphia track in the little train station of Hatfield, located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. 14 people were killed, and almost a half-hundred others were injured, though not all were serious. Four men were ultimately held responsible.

What happened, one may ask. At about 7 in the morning, the daily milk train, which ran from South Bethlehem to Philadelphia, had stopped at Hatfield as it normally did to load up farmers' milk bound for creameries and such in Philadelphia. The train consisted of three cars devoted to the carrying of milk and two passenger cars, known as day cars. A special excursion train, consisting of ten passenger day cars, also was on the tracks that day, behind the mil train. It too came from South Bethlehem, and was bound for the coast at Atlantic City with about 800 passengers on board. It intended to stop in Philadelphia to pick up passengers. For whatever reason, the train barreled towards the Hatfield station and collided into the rear of the milk train, where the passenger cars were. It demolished one car and half of another. Most of the thirteen people killed in the crash were in the milk train's day cars.

The collision was horrible, according to the accounts of people who witnessed it or its aftermath. Many more people were injured, and some of the dead were mangled in ways that horrified onlookers. Doctors and nurses came from places as far as Philadelphia to help, and a local warehouse was made into a makeshift morgue for the large number of fatalities. People came out on that Sunday morning to help as best as they could, whether it be caring for the wounded, clearing the crash, freeing people that were trapped or moving bodies.

This train wreck changed the lives of many people, among them my own family. On that train was my great-great-grandfather, Florian Waldspurger. He was bound for Philadelphia on the milk train for a day in the city. He never made. He was decapitated when the excursion train collided into his train car. He was fifty five years of age, an Alsatian of French and German descent and an immigrant to the United States. He was survived by his wife and five children.

Twelve other people died in that fateful crash. Among them, an owner of a hotel, a father and his daughter, a young woman about to be married, a farmer who had just delivered his supply of milk to be sent to Philadelphia and several others who did not expect that early Sunday morning to be their last.

Who was to blame for this accident? Four men ultimately were charged in the accident. John Davis, the engineer of the excursion train was charged for running his train ahead of schedule and for not heeding a red flag that was put out at the Souderton crossing, a few miles before Hatfield. John Shelby, the conductor of the excursion train was charged because he allowed the train's engineer to run the train ahead of time and did not order him to reduce his speed. D. B. Beidler, the operator of the Souderton Station, was charged for not properly signaling that the milk train was on the tracks. W. S. Groves, the train dispatcher at the Reading Terminal, was charged because he failed to keep in touch with both trains and allow both trains to know the other was on the track.

John Davis was injured in the accident, having been thrown from the train when it collided. The other three turned themselves in after being charged, with Davis presumably arrested after he recovered from his injuries. To read more about what happened at the trials, click here.

It would be interesting to know what the stories of those who were hurt or killed in the accident were. But sadly, those are stories that may never be told.

If anyone ever finds info that will allow these stories to be told, please let me know!

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  • kelitad profile imageAUTHOR

    kelitad 

    7 years ago from Norwalk, Iowa

    George Snyder's house wasn't the only one that they carried the wounded to, as there were almost 50 injured. Others who were listed in the news accounts as opening their homes were C.J. Buckley, Frank H. Reaser, John Wagner, James Miller and Chester Knipe. Some wounded were also sent to Saint Luke's Hospital. The dead were taken to a fence factory building owned by Jonas S. Moyer, which was turned into a makeshift morgue.

  • profile image

    dixieo5599 

    7 years ago

    I am from Hatfield. The wounded were taken to the George S. snyder home to be tended to. The dead were taken to another area.

    The area is much the same as it was 100 years ago.

  • kelitad profile imageAUTHOR

    kelitad 

    9 years ago from Norwalk, Iowa

    Thanks!

    I did try to find some info on the trial the last time I visited Philadelphia, but alas, I had not been successful. My hope is that as the world becomes more and more digital that someone will transcribe the account of the trial, whenever it was, onto an easily accessible website or database that I can then read. But who knows when that will happen.

  • Quilligrapher profile image

    Quilligrapher 

    9 years ago from New York

    Hi Kelitad. Welcome to HubPages.

    What an interesting story! Too bad you don’t know the details from the trial. That would make another fascinating hub. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    Q

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