Oakland, CA Train Plunges Through Bridge, May 1890




San Francisco, Cal., May 31. -- In a frightful railroad accident twenty-nine people have lost their lives. The local train connecting at Oakland with the ferryboats from San Francisco ran through an open drawbridge over San Antonio Creek at Webster street, Oakland. The yacht JUANITA had just passed through the draw when the train appeared, going in the direction of Alameda. The drawbridge keeper endeavored at once to close the bridge, but it was too late, and the engine with the tender and the first car, which was filled with passengers, plunged into the creek, which was here quite deep.
Engineer SAM DUNN, when he saw that the bridge did not close, reversed the lever, but the momentum of the engine was too great to allow him to stop the train in time. The weight of the engine and the first car broke the couplings and left the other two cars of the train standing on the track. The second car ran about a third of the way across the bridge and stopped, but the jar was sufficient to break open the front of the car, and many of the passengers were thrown into the water.
The first car, which had followed the engine to the bottom of the muddy estuary, soon rose, and such of the passengers as had escaped were picked up by the yachts and small boats which gathered at the scene. The trainmen and the rest of the passengers set to work to help the rescuers, and when the wrecking train arrived from Oakland the car was drawn into shallow water and small boats began dragging the creek for the bodies of the victims.
The top of the passenger coach was cut open as soon as it was raised above the water and the work of removing the bodies commenced, ten being taken out in quick succession. Three women and three girls were taken from the water alive and removed to the receiving hospital. Another young lady died soon after being taken from the water.
The news of the accident created intense excitement in Oakland and thousands of people flocked to the morgue and to the scene of the wreck. At the morgue bodies were laid out as soon as received to await identification.
The body of E. P. ROBINSON, which was among those taken from the hole cut in the roof of the car, was among the first removed, and was taken charge of by Coroner EVERS. The bodies of six men and two women were brought in soon after, some of the bodies being at first left at the receiving hospital, where the injured were also taken. In a short time thirteen bodies lay on the floor and on the marble slabs of the morgue awaiting identification, and heartrending scenes were witnessed as friends came forward to claim their dead. The list of the identified is as follows:
MARTIN KELLY, Oakland, Assistant Chief Wharfinger for the State.
A. H. AUSTIN of AUSTIN & PHELPS, San Francisco.
MRS. BRYAN O'CONNOR, widow of the decreased member of the firm of O'Connor, Moffatt & Co., San Francisco.
J. R. IRWIN, sewing machine agent, Oakland.
E. R. ROBINSON, San Francisco.
LUIGI MALTESTA, San Francisco.
CAPT. JOHN DWYER, Sacramento.
MR. WILLIAMS, San Francisco.
H. W. AULD (colored), Honolulu.
The two MISSES KIERNAN, San Francisco.
H. MALTERA, San Francisco.
The experience of the passengers in the first coach, as related by those who fortunately escaped, was horrible in the extreme. F. F. FINLEY, of San Francisco, one of the passengers, told a graphic story of the disaster. "We left the city," he said, "on the 1:25 train for Alameda on the narrow-gauge. I was seated on the front seat of the first car, facing the engine. All wnet well until just as we approached the drawbridge crossing the San Antonio creek. As we drew near to the bridge it seemed to me the draw was open and that a fearful accident was inevitable. Just then a man jumped from the engine into the water, and then came a crash. A horrible crushing of timber and snapping of heavy iron work followed, and at once consternation prevailed in the car. The next thing I knew I found myself blindly groping for the door, which I fortunately found and opened. When I found myself on the platform I gradually worked my way by climbing and holding on to the front of the car to the roof, which I had just reached when that end of the car rose out of the water, and quite a number of people escaped in this manner, principally women and children. The car was about two thirds full when we left the wharf, and I should judge there were at least fifty people in it. There was a fearful outcry when the car began to fill, but theis was almost immediately hushed in one long final wail of despair."
JAMES DUNLAP, who was tneding the bridge at the time of the accident, said:
"I was in charge at the time and had just opened the draw to allow the yacht JUANITA to pass through. I was in the act of moving the draw back into place when the uptrain from San Francisco came along. That is all I know about it." He declined to answer the question if it was not rather unusual to open the draw just at the hour when the train was due.
The water over which the bridge is build is an estuary of San Francisco bay. A strong current runs in the stream, which at the point of the accident is about 300 feet wide and twenty feet deep. A passenger train crosses the bridge every half hour during the day and when the bridge is open the keeper is supposed to signal by hoisting a red flag. The bridgetender says the danger flag was properly set in the center of the track when the bridge was opened for the yacht JUANITA to pass.
It is now known that there were forty-eight people in the car that went down. Of these nineteen are known to have escaped with their lives, making the probable number of the killed twenty-nine.
Engineer SAM DUNN and FIreman O'BRIEN have both disappeared. They both went down with the engine, but succeeded in extricating themselves and escaped without injury. After the accident they were seen on the wharf, but were threatened with violence by the crowd which had gathered at the scene of the wreck. Some indignant citizens even offered to throw them into the bay.

Davenport Morning Tribune Iowa 1890-06-01