Locust Gap, PA Train Wreck, May 1888

Eight Burned To Death

Fatal Explosion In A Railroad Collision.

Two Separated Sections Of A Freight Train Crash Together And Cause A Terrible Loss Of Life.

Philadelphia, May 6.-A car of DuPont powder exploded at a point on the Philadelphia and Reading line, between Mount Carmel and Locust Gap, at about 11 o’clock last night. Eight persons were killed, thirty more or less seriously injured, and property was destroyed to the value of $75,000. The names of the killed are: JOHN QUINN, burned to death; two little girls, daughters of John Quinn, also burned to death; DANIEL KERWICK, aged 8 years, ALICE KERWICK, aged 5 years, MARY CAVANAUGH, aged 8 years, WILLIE CAVANAUGH, aged 14 years, and one infant child of Simon Kerwick.

The injured are two daughters of John Quinn, badly burned; Mrs. Miles Dougherty, daughter of Miles Dougherty, contusion of leg and several severe bruises; Andrew McElwee, right eye destroyed and otherwise injured; John Donlan, leg amputated and other limbs bruised and cut; Mrs. Patrick Nead and two children cut and bruised.

Through freight No. 67, bound for Williamsport, filled up at Locust Gap at 10 o’clock. Westwardly there is a heavy grade, and the train acquired a speed of 30 miles per hour. At the foot of the incline there is a sort of flat, and at this point the coupling between the third and fourth cars broke. The first section ran a half a mile before the fact that the train had parted was learned by Conductor Ziegenfose. Engineer Robert Gallagher whistled down brake, and had about brought the first section to a standstill when the second section rushed down upon it. The third car contained DuPont powder. Rualin caps, glycerin, and other explosives, consigned to D. W. Hold, Newbury Junction. A moment after the collision these exploded, and sent death and destruction in every direction.

At the scene of the accident the railroad, runs along the mountain side 100 feet above the level of the Locust Gap Creek. Running parallel with the stream there are two rows of houses owned by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, and occupied by the company’s miners. Midway between the railroad the first row on the steep incline stood a little cottage where John Quinn and is family of four children resided. This was reduced to ruins, and ignited by the cooking stove, which scattered its burning coals among the ruins. The father was caught under the stove and was burned to a blackened mass. His two little girls shared a similar fate. The other members of the family were rescued, but not before they had been seriously burned.

The flames next consumed the adjoining row of eight houses. In building No. 4 resided Simon Kerwick, his wife, his son Daniel aged 8 years, Alice, 5 years, Mary and Willie Cavanaugh, adopted children aged 8 and 14 years, and a newly-born babe. Mr. Kerwick grasped his sick wife and narrowly escaped from the burning building. This morning the charred remains of the five children were gathered from the ruins to await inspection of the Coroner. Almost simultaneously the inmates of the adjoining buildings were rescued. Brave men rushed into the flames and performed deeds which won the praise of the thousands who beheld the ruins today.

The Mount Carmel physicians hastened to the scene of the accident and rendered assistance wherever needed to the cut and bruised. So severe was the force of the explosion that every window in Locust Gap was reduced to pieces and the plastering was shaken from the walls. The Catholic Church windows were especially valuable. In Mount Carmel the French plate glass store windows were also destroyed. The car which contained the powder and a dozen others were blown to atoms. In all 17 dwellings were destroyed by the fire and flying fragments of the cars. The families rendered homeless have been provided for by the Locust Gap and Mount Carmel citizens. Wrecking crews have again put the road in a condition for traffic.

New York Times, New York, NY 7 May 1888


The church mentioned in this article is now our home! :)

Very interesting article. My husband and I are restoring the old church in this article that was just 18 years old when the train explosion happened.

It's very interesting to discover lots of things about the rich history of the church.

We are keeping a web page on our progress at http://The1870.com and invite everyone to watch.

We would also love to learn more about the history of the former St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Locust Gap, PA if anyone out there has any information to share.

Thanks so much!