Monday, July 09, 2007

July 9

Today is the 89th anniversary of one of the worst train disasters in American history. On the morning of 9 June 1918, two passenger trains from the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad collided along a stretch of single track in Nashville, killing at least a hundred people, many of whom were soldiers and black factory workers mobilized for the Great War. The accident took place a mere eight minutes after the local train No. 4 departed from Union Station, several minutes behind schedule; the No. 1, arriving from Memphis on its way to Atlanta, was itself 35 minutes late. The crew of the No. 1 train erroneously believed they had already passed the No. 4 and thus did not stop before reaching a ten-mile stretch of single track leading into Nashville.

When the trains met at Dutchman’s Grade -- a sharply curved section of track known for its poor visibility -- each was traveling at nearly 60 miles an hour. The wooden cars collapsed into each other, spraying bodies and parts of bodies in all directions. The sound of impact, which could be heard for several miles, drew tens of thousands of gawkers to the scene as the dead and wounded were retrieved from the wreckage.

Postal workers reported that the mail recovered from the accident was speckled with flesh and bone. Because they were assumed to be less squeamish than other Nashvillians, local butchers were enlisted to cut the bodies of the dead from the mangled cars.