Camp Hill, PA Train Wreck, Jul 1856

Etching of the Disaster CAMP HILL PA WRECK 1856


Sixty Killed - One Hundred Wounded !!

From the Philadelphia Daily News, July 18.
We take up our pen to record the most calamitous Railroad disaster that it has ever been our lot to write of. In all our professional career, not a short one, we have never witnessed anything so truly heart-rending --- so calculated to draw tears from the eyes of the most cold and indifferent. There is something in the suffering of the young, that seldom fails to fill us with painful emotions, and when superadded to their groans and cries, the eye rests upon the inanimate forms of others lying in the embrace of death, their bodies mangled and bleeding, few can withstand so severe a tax upon human fortitude.

The calamity we are about to picture, took place a few minutes after six o'clock, yesterday morning, on the North Pennsylvania Railroad, at a spot called "Camp Hill," thirteen miles from the City, where there is a curve sufficiently short to shut out from the view approaching trains.

At about five o'clock, a train composed of ten cars, containing the scholars and teachers of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Michael, located in the district of Kensington, together with a number of male and female friends, left the Station at Second and Master streets, to proceed to Fort Washington, where they designed to spend the day in healthful sports and pastimes. Many a heart beat with pleasure in anticipation of enjoying a season of unalloyed happiness, which was soon to cease to beat forever, and many a face was wreathed in smiles that was soon to give expression to the severest pain and anguish.

The company numbered, according to the best information we could get, about eight hundred, the cars holding when crowded, some eighty passengers each, counting old and young.

On the way out, the train being an unusually long one for the road, it was delayed about half an hour, and was so long that the conductor in charge of the regular down train, which leaves Gwynedd at 6 o'clock, concluded to go on.

Just after rounding the curve at "Camp Hill," the excursion train ran into the down train, which was either proceeding very cautiously, or was at a complete stand, and the effect was frightful in the extreme. The force of the collision was so great, that the cars of the excursion train were driven on top of each other, and to add to the calamity, were set on fire. Men, women and children were jammed, bruised, cut, and crushed to death, while hundreds (and this is no exaggeration) were wounded, some so terribly as to render recovery exceedingly doubtful. Many will lose an arm or leg, if they survive, and not a few both.

So wide spread was the destruction, and so appalling the catastrophe, that it was some time before sufficient force could be collected to render any assistance to the wounded, whose sufferings, amid the broken timbers and the spreading fire, may be imagined but not described.

The calamity took place at a point where there is no shade, and no house easy of access, and as the sun rose upon the scene, the condition of the wounded became more and more terrible.
As the news of the collision spread the surrounding neighbors from Chestnut Hill, Gwynedd and other localities gathered, and did all that was possible for the wounded.

The railroad officers were early apprised of the affair, and despatched[sic] an extra train to the scene. One of the cars contained mattrasses[sic] for the wounded. The delay necessarily attendant upon the removal of these, made it nearly eleven o'clock before any of them were received at the Shackamaxon Station. Here everything had been provided for the prompt dressing of their wounds and alleviation of their pain, as far as possible.

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