Thursday, November 1, 2018

Over 100 Killed in Wreck During Strike -- November 1, 2018

Arizona Republican, 02-November-1918
The Malbone Street wreck was one of the worst public transit accidents in the US.  


(By the Associated Press)
NEW YORK, Nov. 1. -- One hundred bodies had been taken late tonight from what is known as the Malbone street "tunnel" on the Brighton Beach line of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company where a five car train running at high speed jumped the track on a curve and struck the side wall with such terrific force that the first car was demolished, and the others "buckled" until they were jammed against the roof of the tunnel.

The train which carried nearly 900 passengers, was in charge of a "green" motorman.

Rescue workers declared they believed more bodies were buried under the wreckage and that the death list of men, women and children might reach 120. Probably twice that many were injured, many of them seriously.

District Attorney Lewis of Kings county, declared the accident was due to recklessness on the part of the motorman who had been employed as a train dispatcher and was pressed into service because of the strike which went into effect today after the company had refused to reinstate 29 discharged union employes.

"The motorman is gone," Mr. Lewis said. "The claim adjusting department appears to have kidnapped him."

Police Commissioner Enright echoed the assertion of Mr. Lewis. "The accident appears to have been the result of a 'green' motorman running his train at an excessive rate of speed. The police now are searching for this man."


Lewis said warrants will be issued for the arrest of all officials of the corporation who could be held responsible for the disaster. An investigation of the wreck was in progress late tonight at the offices of the public service commission. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit company had made no statement concerning the wreck and four hours after it occurred ignorance was professed of exactly what had happened.

The wrecked train was packed to the gates with home-going men, women and children. Service on the company's lines was materially reduced because of the strike and every train which left the Brooklyn bridge was literally jammed by the thousands of delayed residents of Brooklyn who also fought to get aboard.

Hours after the accident it was difficult to determine exactly how it happened. The crash came in a dark tunnel and the hysterical survivors were unable to give a coherent account of their experiences. Many of them insisted that a second train had plowed into the rear of the one which had carried them and this was the theory of District Attorney Lewis until he had carefully sifted the evidence at his command. He finally determined, however, that only one train was involved.


Mr. Lewis and the police asserted that the train was running fully 40 miles an hour when it took the curve and plunged into the concrete sidewall of the tunnel. It was difficult for them to believe at first, they said, that there could have been such heavy loss of life unless two trains had been involved. The tunnel was completed only recently and it was declared that only a motorman familiar with the line could have negotiated the curve safely even at a moderate speed.

When the first car jumped the track it side-swiped the west wall and ran along the ties for nearly 100 feet. The cars behind crashed through it and then buckled against the roof and fell.

The tragedy marked the first day of a strike called by the company's motormen to force the reinstatement of 29 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers as ordered by the national war labor board.

Officials of the company professed three hours after the accident to have no definite information as to its cause. They said no reports had been made to them by members of the train crew. "There is no doubt." Mr. Lewis said, "that the motorman of the loading (leading? - JT) train was going at a high rate of speed when he made the turn into the cut. The front car jumped the track and buckled. The train following ran into the stalled one."'

Unused to Road

According to survivors of the wreck the motorman evidently was unused to the road, as he was compelled to back up at one point, when he had taken the wrong switch.

Both trains were jammed with passengers as the strike had resulted in a material reduction in service and consequent delay.

Immediately after the crash the wrecked cars burst into flames adding to the terror of those who had escaped injury and increasing the peril of those pinned in the wreckage.

Police reserves from a dozen stations were rushed to the scene of the accident and they immediately sent in calls for all the ambulances in Brooklyn while Manhattan hospitals were asked for assistance. The fire department also was called upon to aid the injured and remove the dead.

Rescue Work Retarded

Rescue work was retarded by the. fact that the crash occurred in a deep cut.

It was difficult for relief workers or survivors to clamber up and down the steep concrete walls of what is known as the Malbone street "tunnel."

The injured and dead were carried up ladders taken from fire apparatus. Charred bodies were placed in burlap bags to shroud them from the gaze of the thousands of persons who gathered within a few minutes after the collision, policemen and firemen were mobbed by frenzied men and women. There was a ghastly glow that arose only to die again, leaving the victims of the wreck in darkness. The first rescuers found the rear car with its nose pointed upward. It was half turned on one side and from its windows hung girls and women who had been crushed in the moment of the impact.

The rescuers climbed over dead bodies to get to those who still lived. But in the fore part of the car they found bodies wedged so tightly that it was impossible to remove them without first cutting away the framework of the car. Firemen with axes hewed their way to the imprisoned dead and hurt.

Through the rescuing force there came Msgr. John T. Woods of the Holy Cross Church, in Flatbush. With him was the Kev. Francis Coppinger, his assistant. The priests pushed their way through the tunnel and began administering to the dying the last rites of the church. When this act of mercy was no longer valuable they joined the workers and aided in bringing the dead and the injured to the street.

In the forward cars the rescuers found the half burned bodies of men and women, and stretchers which were lowered to the bottom of the cut were used to take to the surface such as yet showed signs of life.

Those who first reached the scene found girls and women with their arms locked about one another pinned beneath the seats that had been torn and broken and partly burned. In the second car they found passengers pinned against the roof, against the sides and beneath the seats. Some of them transfixed with splinters of broken wood and others had been badly cut by flying glass.

Gruesome Sights ln Wreckage.

Some things rescuers saw were indescribable in any detail. One or two examples only are necessary to give some idea of the nature of the worst traction disaster New York ever has known.

Several burlap bags were filled with severed arms and legs and carried up the ladders the firemen had rigged to the street. One man spoke with horror of seeing five heads, severed from bodies. When the crash came a woman victim apparently put her hands to her head instinctively. Her body was found with the head severed, but the hand still grasping the hair. Many bodies were impaled on splintered walls of the coaches, as if on jagged spears.

All of the available policemen and firemen of Brooklyn were hurried to the spot. The police and firemen dropped ladders at the north end of the cut. Burlap bags were used to encase the bodies that were taken from the wreck, and in the street above all of the ambulances and other vehicles that could be commandeered were kept in waiting to take the bag covered corpses to the Kings county morgue, to Ebbets Field and to the Snyder avenue police station.

Thousands of persons blocked the street above the cut. Hysterical women, waiting for men, women and girls who were known to be due at home at that hour, pressed eagerly forward to see the bodies. It was with the greatest difficulty that the police prevented the excited women from tearing the burlap bags from the bodies in order that they might ascertain whether they contained the bodies of their own kin.

As the excitement grew the number of police reserves at the scene increased and more firemen were called to aid. The first police detail that went into the cut found twenty-eight dead in one pile. Some of them were women, with three or four children in the group. The rescuers lighted bonfires in the black tunnel, building them from wreckage of the splintered cars, to enable them to carry on the work of rescuing the injured and getting out the dead. Then there came automobiles, which turned their headlights like so many searchlights in a sea fight from the open cut into the tunnel.

The wreck filled the tunnel so completely that in many cases it was necessary to carry the dead through the tunnel to the Prospect Park station at Lincoln road, a distance considerably further than that to the open cut at Malbone street. Bodies taken from the rear of the train, however, were carried the short distance to the open cut and lifted up to be carried across Flatbush avenue to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

Motor Corps ambulance girls, with their auto ambulances and cars, did valuable work. There also came all of the available ambulances in Brooklyn, both public and private. Among the firemen who came to work with might and main at the rescue task was one company from Cortelyou road, which alone brought out thirty-five bodies.

There were many conflicting stories as to what had happened. Eyewitnesses were sure that a second train had crashed into the first after it had come to grief, but the police investigation of the physical facts did not carry out this view. Borough Inspector Murphy, Inspector McElroy and Capt. E. M. Gallagher, who were early on the scene, said that the first car of the train was badly smashed, the second was even worse than the first and the third was but a mass of kindling wood. The fourth was a wreck and the last, or fifth car of the train, alone remained on the tracks.

In the yard along the tracks clothing of all descriptions was scattered. Shirtwaists, torn from their wearers in the frenzy of the fight for life, were found along the tracks, and one woman had evidently lost her entire skirt, Papers and magazines that had been read by the passengers littered the right of way.

500 Police Seek Bodies.

The 500 policemen, taken from every precinct of Brooklyn, worked manfully to rescue the injured and to bring the bodies of the dead to the streets. There they impressed into service every passing automobile, and the bodies, which were wrapped in the burlap bags, were taken to the big lobby of the grandstand at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn National League baseball park, as well as to the morgue of the King's County Hospital and the police station at Snyder avenue.

The Edison Electric Illuminating Company sent to the scene a special wagon that carried four powerful searchlights. The lights played glaringly upon the wreck scene and followed the rescuers as they brought up body after body, Relatives of persons who were thought to be on the train jammed the streets. Many of them, hysterical, herded about the morgue, the police station and the baseball park long after midnight seeking some tidings of their loved ones.

In the meantime the officials of the B. R. T., including President Timothy S. Williams, Vice-President Dempsey and Chief Engineer Mendel were at the offices of the Public Service Commission, where there was also a delegation of the striking motormen and all five Commissioners. They were making an effort to arrive at a settlement of the pending strike.

The B. R. T. officials and the strikers remained at the meeting but Commissioners Whitney, Kracke and Ordway hurried to the scene of the wreck. Chairman Hubbel and Commissioner Hervey continued hearing the testimony concerning the strike. The B. R. T. officials at the meeting refused to talk for publication concerning the wreck but they asserted that no green motorman had been on duty during the day.

There has been for some time much comment among the passengers of the B. R. T. over the character of the rolling stock employed on the lines, especially on the Brighton road. Old wooden cars, many of them with ornate carving that is associated with the recollection of the '90s, have appeared from oblivion to do duty. It was taken for granted that these were a makeshift to serve until the new subway work is done, when steel cars will be used.

The police searchers found in the wreckage a pocketbook that held the card of Hazel G. Watts, 48 East Thirty-second street, and the same pocketbook contained a letter addressed to Sue Landingham, Tampa, Fla. ln another case they found an insurance card made out to Sophie Jacowitz. showing payments amounting to $12.50, together with a Christmas card.

Bodies In Bad Condition.

At the Kings County Hospital, where eighty-three bodies are in the morgue, it was announced that no one would be permitted to view the remains until to-day because of the terrible condition in which the bodies were recovered. It was thought that by to-day something might be done to render them recognizable. The hospital authorities thought that the injured might reach 125, but they could give no adequate estimate because every hospital in Brooklyn held some of the unfortunates.

Passengers who escaped injury ran from the first cars to the Prospect Park station and made their way to the street. They were white and trembling -- a procession of those who had looked upon death in one of its ugliest forms. The haste with which the majority of the survivors hurried away, in contrast with the usual New York habit of joining a curious throng, led to comment from the police and the ambulance surgeons. It spoke eloquently of the horror of the accident.

From a clerk of the Department of Charities and Correction came the last estimate of the dead. He said that members of his force had been sent to the scene and that they had accounted for 120 dead. These bodies, he averred, had been actually counted.

About the Snyder avenue station many persons gathered as early as 10 o'clock. In the crowd were many who had relatives on the train. Just before midnight the police read to the uneasy citizens a list of the identified dead. Now and then there came a sob from some woman in the room, and one man dropped fainting to the floor. He was taken to a hospital.

Before the Kings County Hospital stopped the night inspection the police permitted a long line to pass before the bodies in the morgue. A number of women fainted and there were many exclamations of anguish as relatives were recognized.

Mayor Hylan Visits the Wreck.

Mayor Hylan went at midnight to the scene of the wreck, where he entered the tunnel and made a minute inspection. Inspector Murphy of the Police department accompanied him. When the Mayor had finished he sent word to Commissioner Enright to send men to all B. R T. terminals and to prevent any motormen who had not three months experience from taking out a train.

In a statement made after 1 o'clock this morning in the office of the Public Service Commission Col. Timothy S. Williams, president of the B. R. T. said he had heard that Motorman Lewis was an experienced man and not a green employee, as had been previously stated. He said:

"Really there is nothing I can say. I was trying to get to the scene of the accident, but I was detained here by a discussion of the strike settlement. The motorman in charge of the train was an experienced motorman, I have heard. I don't know his name.

"I really feel too sad to say anything. I can't add anything as to the causes of the accident. All I know about it is what I have have been told by Commissioners Ordway and Kracke. I was on my way here to the Public Service Commission rooms when I first learned of the accident I did not know of its seriousness then. None of us did. I cannot account for it from what these gentlemen tell me."

It was called to Mr. Williams's attention that the man in charge of the train was a dispatcher.

Calls Motorman Reckless.

Harry K. Lewis, District Attorney of Kings county, gave out the following statement at the Snyder avenue police station early to-day:

"The accident was undoubtedly due to the recklessness of Motorman Anthony Lewis, who was incompetent and his incompetency must have been known to the officials of the road who directed him to take out the train. From the information in my possession he was travelling at a highly excessive rate of speed around this curve and disregarding the signals. When his car jumped the track the second, third and fourth cars were buckled and smashed.

"These cars -- that is, the second, third and fourth cars -- were old style wooden couches, at least twenty-five years old. The first and the rear cars were motors. This was a five car train. All the cars were loaded to the gates with people.

"The motorman disappeared. A general alarm was issued for him and I ordered his arrest. Turner, the conductor, is under police surveillance at his home. He was injured In the accident. The officials of the road will be ordered to my office forthwith.

"My information is that one of the claim adjusters of the road spirited away the motorman."

Admits 30 Mile an Hour Speed.

Mayor Hylan, District Attorney Lewis had Anthony Lewis, the motorman of the wrecked train, who had been arrested at the Thirty-sixth street depot of the B, R. T., arrived at the Snyder avenue police station at the same time. The motorman was at once taken to a back room and questioned. When the Mayor left at 2 o'clock this morning he said Lewis admitted that he had never run a train over the Brighton line before.

"Motorman Lewis admitted that he was going at a rate of thirty miles an hour before entering the cut," the Mayor said. "He told us that the cars swayed and hit the cement side walls before leaving the track. Lewis declared he had been working ten hours and said he had to make a living. After the smash, the motorman told us, he helped to remove some of the dead and injured from the first car and then stood about for a few minutes until he felt so nervous that he went to the Thirty-sixth street depot, where he made a report. Then he went home and remained there until he was arrested."

Sam Rossof, 39, 2936 West Fifth street, Coney Island, a guard on the train, also is charged with homicide.

Mike Turner, conductor, is detained as a material witness.

Col, Williams and other B. R. T. officials are ordered to appear at District Attorney Lewis's offices at 9 o'clock this morning for examination.

Employees and Company Reach Understanding Early This Morning.
By Evening About Half of the Places of Men Who Quit Were Filled.

An agreement has been reached between the B. R. T. and its employees and the strike has been settled, according to an announcement by Public Service Commissioner Hervey shortly before 2 o'clock this morning.

In obedience to the strike order issued Thursday night by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 250 motormen employed on the subway and elevated lines of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company quit their places yesterday morning. Their action had the effect of hampering the service, to a considerable extent in the early hours, but by the time the heavy traffic from Manhattan to Brooklyn had begun in the evening, about half the strikers' places had been filled by men drawn from elsewhere on the system.

J, J. Dempsey, vice-president of the B. R. T., figured last night that the system had been able to operate its subway and elevated trains at about 85 per cent. of normal in the rush hours. His agents were out all of yesterday recruiting men to take the places of the strikers, and he said he was sure the trains would be run on normal schedule to-day.

The company, although unable to recruit all the substitute motormen it needed, was able to take care of much of its traffic by running more cars to the train than has been the custom for several weeks.

The strike was called as a result of the refusal of the company to take back twenty-nine motormen recommended for reinstatement by the Federal War Labor Board October 28. In a statement given out yesterday Col. Timothy S. Williams, president of the company, said that the recommendation of the War Board had been referred to the B. R. T. Employees Benefit Association.

The Federal War Board, of which Ex-President Taft is chairman, has thus expressed itself in regard to the Employees Benefit Association:

"The form of the association seems to have been changed from time to time, but one feature which has persisted is that the president of the company has appointed the president of the association and the president of the association has either himself conducted its elections or appointed other persons to do so."

Recalls Park Avenue Tunnel and Other Accidents.

None of the many wrecks in the history of New York city's transportation lines can equal last night's disaster in magnitude. The most serious accident in the past occurred on January 8, 1902, when a New York Central train from White Plains crashed into the rear of a train from South Norwalk in the tunnel at Fifty-eighth street, killing fifteen persons and injuring thirty-five others, some of whom died later.

In the history of the elevated lines the worst disaster was that of September 11, 1903, when twelve persons were killed and forty injured on a Ninth avenue elevated train which took the curve at Fifty-third street at high speed as the result of a confusion of signals.

On December 9, 1914, a Ninth avenue elevated local, carrying hundreds of passengers, crashed into an express train standing at the 116th street station. Two men were killed in the panic that ensued and about eighteen other persons were injured.

A motorman was killed and eleven passengers injured In a rear end collision between two Third avenue elevated trains just north of the 145th street station on June 5, 1916.

In another rear end collision on the Brooklyn Rapid Transit line on October 18, 1915, twenty persons were hurt. On June 27 of the same year fourteen passengers were injured when a Vanderbilt avenue surface car smashed into the rear of a stalled Culver line train at the Van Sicklen station, Coney Island. Several other accidents on the L lines in recent years resulted in the injury of about a score of persons.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 02-November-1918

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