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Morbid Monday: Deadly Trains

Charles Dickens Rail Crash

Early train travel was plagued by accidents: derailments, signal accidents, and horrifying boiler explosions. It is frankly astonishing that anyone actually traveled by train in the wake of some of these tragedies, particularly when you realize the relish with which the media of the day sensationalized, photographed, filmed and even fictionalized the disasters.

In 1865, Charles Dickens and his mistress survived a train crash that killed ten people and injured another 49. He wrote about the horror of the crash:

“I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner. Two ladies were my fellow passengers; an old one, and a young one. This is exactly what passed:- you may judge from it the precise length of the suspense. Suddenly we were off the rail and beating the ground as the car of a half emptied balloon might. The old lady cried out “My God!” and the young one screamed.”

In 1866, just in time for the holidays, he wrote his train wreck inspired ghost story “The Signal Man”, inspired by his own experiences as well as an 1861 rail disaster known as the Clayton Tunnel Crash, in which 23 people died. In the story, a railway signal man is visited by a ghost whose visits predict rail disasters. Read Charles Dickens’ “The Signal Man” on Project Gutenberg

Trains

More deadly trains:

In France, the Versailles Rail Accident of 1842 trapped & killed at least 55 passengers

In the early days of the California State Fair used to feature large scale train crashes. like demo derby

Original film footage of a crash staged for the 1913 CA State Fair 

The most iconic train wreck photo captures the combo of haste and faulty brakes at Gare Montparnesse, Paris

“The only fatality was a woman on the street below who was killed by falling masonry.”

In Bolivia, you can pay your respects to trains of yore at the Great Train Graveyard

A BBC collection of the world’s worst train disasters

Join us each Monday on Twitter and follow our #morbidmonday hashtag, for new odd and macabre themes each week: Atlas Obscura on Twitter

Previously:

Morbid Monday: Chung Ling Soo & the Bullet Trick That Went Horribly Wrong

Morbid Monday: Welsh Edition

Morbid Monday: Clemente Susini and his Anatomical Venus

Morbid Monday: Egypt Edition

Morbid Monday: Mad Monks & Bullet-Proof Corsets

Morbid Monday: The Unhappy Prince and the Dead Baroness

Morbid Monday: Deadly Beauty

Morbid Monday: Space Dogs, Traveling Cats, and a Sad Story About Elephant