Valley Stream, NY, Train Accident, June 1897


A Train Crashes Into a Coach Filled with Pleasure Seekers

Many Hurled to Destruction

A Six-Horse Tally-Ho Loaded Inside and on Top Was Crossing the Long Island Railroad Tracks Near Valley Stream, L.I.–Coach Cut in Pieces–Bell Signal Gave No Note of Warning to Victims

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Special).–A tragedy to chill the blood occurred Monday afternoon when a tally-ho coach filled with merry-makers was struck by a Long Island Railroad train at a grade crossing near Valley Stream. Four people were killed outright, and another died soon after. Seventeen others were injured. Only two persons escaped injury in a party of twenty-three.

From evidence of witnesses and the statement of the Coroner, the responsibility for its horror apparently rests upon the Long Island Railroad Company in its strange neglect in allowing the gong at the crossing to get out of order. The failure of this system of warning at the crossing was complete, according to the testimony of many witnesses.

The dead, the dying and the injured were co-workers in the Greene Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and all lived in the city. The dead are DORA BURTSCH, twenty years old, killed instantly, her neck being broken and a large splinter of shattered woodwork having penetrated the skull; WILLIAM GILCHRIST, JR., twenty-one years old, killed outright: WINSLOW W. LEWIS, nineteen years old, killed instantly, his skull being crushed; GEORGE E. PASHLEY, twenty years old, killed instantly, his skull having been crushed: LESTER W. ROBERTS, twenty-three years old, killed instantly, his body being dismembered. Those fatally injured are: LAWRENCE A. BARNES, Jr., skull fractured; CLARA STEWART skull fractured, left arm broken and head badly cut; WALTER W. WELLBROCK, twenty-two years old on the day he was hurt, both legs broken and one arm broken.

The accident happened at Valley Stream, just about fifteen miles from Brooklyn. The Montauk Division of the Long Island Railroad runs through Valley Stream, and the Mineola and Valley Stream branch leaves that line there and shoots off to the north toward Hempstead. For about three miles after it leaves the Valley Stream station it runs through a wood. A quarter of a mile from the station of the Merrick road, which is the chief bicycle road on Long Island, crosses the single track at grade. On three corners of this crossing the wood is thick, and it is not possible for persons traveling along the road, either in vehicles or on foot, to see a train coming; nor is it possible for the engineer or persons on a train to see anything of the road until the train is right upon it. Though thousands of persons cross the track at that point every day, the railroad company maintains no flagman there, and the only thing to warn the people is a bell on an old-fashioned "Look out for the locomotive" sign post, which sometimes rings and which sometimes does not, and which, it is asserted positively, did not ring on the day of the accident.

When the edge of the grove to the east was nearly reached, little HARRY LEWIS, a small boy to the left of the driver, looked ahead and saw a man frantically waving his hands from the top of a furniture van that had crossed the railroad a moment before. The shout could have hardly reached them before the small boy from his vantage seat caught sight of the oncoming train from the north and cried to the driver: "Look out for that train! Turn quick!"

But the driver had no time to turn. If he had turned, the coach would have reeled across the track. Instead, he threw a lash on the horses, and they leaped in the air with the great lumbering coach behind. It was the the work of a second and scarcely had the horses crossed the furthest rail when the train, with its terrible speed, struck the coach.