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Scene Of Metro-North Derailment Was Also Site Of Tragic 1882 Wreck

State Senator And Railcar Magnate Webster Wagner Was Killed In Accident
Sen. Webster Wagner

New York State Sen. Webster Wagner was killed in a train wreck at the Spuyten Duyvil curve in 1882. (Public Domain)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Spuyten Duyvil curve where the deadly Metro-North derailment happened Sunday was the site of another tragic derailment nearly 132 years ago, which took the life of a New York State senator who is sometimes credited with inventing the sleeping car.

Between 10 and 12 people were killed in the accident on Jan. 13, 1882, which involved a train with 26 state assemblymen and 10 state senators onboard. State Sen. Webster Wagner was killed while aboard a luxurious train car built by the company he himself had founded.

The Atlantic Express train to Manhattan had headed out from Albany about 35 minutes late at 2:40 p.m. that day, according to archive reports. The train was making up time at a high rate of speed, and had nearly made up its lost time when it reached the Spuyten Duyvil curve where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet, according to a report from the following week in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

A third of a mile beyond the curve, one of the air brakes on the train gave out and it ground to a halt, the newspaper reported. While workers tried to fix the brake, a Tarrytown Special train headed for Grand Central Station slammed into the rear of the train.

Two of the rear drawing-room cars were telescoped and burst into flame, the paper reported. Two cars derailed and caught fire, and all 10 to 12 people onboard were believed to have died.

A report in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin at the time used dramatic terms to describe what happened.

“The stoves and lamps in the parlor cars were upset, and ignited the woodwork and upholstery. The passengers were jammed between the seats and sides of the car and held while the flames rose around and enveloped them,” the report said.

Nine people were dead on the scene, and a tenth at the time was “probably fatally injured” after being rushed to 99th Street Hospital on the Upper West Side.

“Another lady passenger, Miss Mary Daniels, aged twenty-five years, of the Sherwood House, New York, who was returning from a visit to Vermont, is badly scalded about the arms and breast, and is lying at the hotel near the scene of the accident,” the report said. “Oliver B. Keeley, stove manufacturer of Springshire, Penn., had his right arm burned to a crisp, and was burned about the body. He was taken out of the car by Detective Dakin, and died at midnight at the hotel.”

State Sen. Wagner was also killed aboard one of the fancy cars on the train, published reports said. Before his political career began, the 64-year-old Republican lawmaker had been the founder of the Wagner Palace Car Company, and had been credited with introducing the sleeping car and the luxurious parlor car to the railroad.

The Wagner Palace Car Company was the maker of the sleeping and parlor cars on the train, reports said. The train included six parlor cars – all with their own proud names that sound more like they should belong to entire Amtrak lines today – Red Jacket, Vanderbilt, Sharon, Minnehaha, Empire and Idlewild.

Few published reports name the other victims who died in the 1882 wreck, although the Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper report notes that “a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Park Valentine” were also killed while on their bridal tour.

The other state lawmakers onboard the train survived the wreck. The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin report described the delegation as “men of note and prominence from both the Republican and Democrat parties.” Correspondents for the New York Times and the New York Sun were also onboard, according to published reports.

In the accident on Sunday, four people were killed and more than 60 were injured when a Metro-North Railroad train derailed. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the accident Sunday night.

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