Tragic Happenings

George Stone Benedict - Killed in Train Wreck

9619 Lake Shore Boulevard

While en route from New York City to Cleveland, George Stone Benedict, the 31-year-old son of George & Sarah Benedict, died in a train wreck of the Pacific Express in the small hamlet of New Hamburg, New York.

On the frigid night of February 6, 1871, a freight train hauling oil-filled tank cars failed to adhere to a new safety procedure that called for stringing a bell-rope through the rail cars to alert the engineer of an emergency. When a damaged tank car passed over a switch just south of the station, the axle became disengaged. Without having the bell-rope installed, none of the crew could alert the engineer to stop the train.

As the train neared the drawbridge over the Wappinger Creek, the damaged car struck a bridge piling, tearing away from the tank car in front and flipping over. It came to rest at an angle across the northbound track.

Finally stopping the train and aware that a northbound train would be arriving at the location soon, the engineer grabbed a red light and instructed a flagman in the nearby tower to join him running south along the tracks to signal the danger ahead.

As George and the other passengers began to settle in for the night in the Buffalo Sleeping Car, the “Second Pacific Express” engineer faintly noticed what appeared to be two red lights and a bright white light ahead. He signaled the brakemen to engage the patent brakes, which didn’t hold because of being designed for coaches, not large sleeper cars. In desperation, the engineer threw the train into reverse.

As the train approached a drawbridge in New Hamburg, New York, the engineer, E. H. Simmons, remained in the engine, doing what he could to avert the threatened disaster and looking death in the face, he perished at his post.

The train crashed into the disabled tank car, causing an explosion. As the passenger train lay on its side, all oil tank cars became engulfed in flames. Within seconds, the burning bridge collapsed, sending damaged passenger railcars into the icy waters below. George was one of the twenty-one passengers killed along with the engineer.

The poem, The Hero of New Hamburg, was written by Benjamin Franklin Taylor three years after the disaster.