Atlantic City, NJ Electric Train Wreck, Oct 1906 - Survivor Stories
How the Bandmaster Escaped.
The fact that he was standing in the aisle of the rear car and near the rear door saved his life for Joseph Devito, manager of the Royal Artillery Band. A moment before the first car left the rails Devito left his seat and went to the water tank. He was standing with the glass in his hand when the crash came, and as he turned about to see what was the matter the glass was hurled from his hand. He was thrown down and slid the length of the car into the heap of men and women struggling in the water in the lower end.
The rear of the car was resting against the abutment then, and the lower end was under water for some distance, Devito, having furthest to fall, was on top.
"It is hard to recall just what took place after I fell," said Devito to-night in the City Hospital. "There was no time to think. Every one acted on instinct, and that prompted every one to try to reach the top of the struggling, clawing heap.
Owes His Life to Cork Leg,
The bodies of the struggling one were fearfully tangled. Being near the top, I was fortunate enough to get my arms free. I caught hold of a part of the seat above me and drew myself clear of the mass.
"I was still submerged to the hips and my legs were caught by others in the water. Others managed to draw themselves to seats. Windows were broken and some of us got out."
Theodore Lawrence of 1018 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, owes his life to the fact that for years he has had a cork leg. His wife, Laura, is believed to be in one of the submerged cars. Lawrence, half insane from grief, is now at the home of friends at 144 Westminster Avenue.
His sister, Mrs. Lorman of 1911 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, had arranged to come down on the train, but missed it by two minutes, and to this fact owes her life. She was on the train behind the wreck and was on the scene an hour after her sister met her death.
Lorman says that at Pleasantville he opened the window of the second car, in which he was sitting. Suddenly he found himself submerged in the water. He saw his wife's red skirt close by him and grabbed for it and the movement started him afloat. He shot upward, passed through the open window, and rose to the surface. His cork leg was responsible. He floated on the surface for half a minute, then some men in a boat picked him up. He fought to get back after his wife and they had great difficulty in resrraining[sic] him.
J. C. Smith of Newfield, N. J., and A. J. Kelly of Jeffersonville, N. Y., were taken with a desire to get off the train at Pleasantville. Neither was able to give any reason for his desire or to explain how it came upon them, but at Pleasantville they both arose from their seats and alighted. Ten minutes later the train plunged through the bridge.
This is the story told by James Curtis, conductor of the train:
"I felt a sudden jolt as we struck the draw, and I reeled sideways and fell into the lap of a passenger. The car bumped along for several feet, judging by the bound, and then the train plunged down, and the water began to pour into the front of the car.
"Then it became dark. The scene in that car was frightful. Men and women wede[sic] wedged between the seats. I could see the look of agony upon their faces. I will never be able to blot it out. One woman you could see grab her husband about the neck. 'Oh, save me!' she was screaming when the water choked her. She is lying dead there now at the bottom of the Thoroughfare. It was fearful.
"When the water rushed into the car and filled it I though my time had come. A woman was hurled against me as I sprang upward. The car was tilted over until the right-hand windows were almost overheard. I threw my body against the glass. It resisted the first attack. I seemed to sing every time I struck the glass. At last I felt the glass give way, and I shot upward. My breath was nearly gone when my head rose above the surface and I felt blessed air."
Some Other Escapes.
One of the best stories of escape is that told by David S. Emley of 1,316 South Fourth Street, Camden. He had promised his eight year old niece, Helen Gilbert of 653 Pine Street, Camden, and afternoon at the shore. They were in the second car, where most of the lives were lost.
"When I felt the car sliding from the bridge I seized the child and forced her into the seat back of me," Emley said. "Then, seizing the rail that runs along the top of the car, I steadied myself with one hand while with the other I forced the window open. Two men battled for my window, put I forced them back, and, pulling myself through the opening, dragged my niece with me and jumped into the water."