Thursday, December 26, 2013

(Expanded Version) Mid-Week Historical Newsbreak -- Tragedy at the Stanton Crossing

After a short absence, the Mid-Week Historical Newsbreak is back, with a story about a holiday season tragedy in Stanton. This one is interesting because it started out as just a short posting, but the more I found out the more I'm thinking that it might have had repercussions that are still evident today. I found several similar but slightly different newspaper accounts of the incident, each one providing a bit more of the story. The one seen above gives the short version of it, being that three people (well, two and a third assumed) were killed when they were struck by a train in Stanton. Sadly, it's a story that you can still see in the paper once or twice a year nowadays it seems, but this one may have a little more to it, I have a hunch.

For a longer version of the story, the December 24, 1897 edition of the (Washington, DC) Evening Star (in the upper left) gives a lot more (and a lot more graphic and gory) details. Very early on the morning of Christmas Eve 1897, T(homas) Wesley McBride, his wife Jennie, and their six year old daughter Carrie were on their way to the Wilmington market. They weren't regular attendants to the market, but this day they had some poultry and eggs they wanted to sell, maybe for some money for a Christmas feast. I'm not absolutely sure where they lived, but it may have been on the family farm formerly belonging to Wesley's father, William McBride. Ironically for a story about physical injury, the McBride farm seems to have been located at the present site of Christiana Hospital. If they did live there or close to there, it would make sense that they would be coming up the road toward Stanton, on their way (via today's Route 4) to the city.

It was a cold, blustery morning as the McBrides reached the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad tracks (now the Amtrak line) south of Stanton. It must have been a little past 2:30 in the morning when they arrived at the crossing, unfortunately at the same moment as the Washington and New York Express (due into Wilmington at 2:55 AM). Due to the conditions, the family had their wagon closed up as much as possible and apparently didn't hear or see the oncoming train. You can read the Evening Star report for more details of their injuries, but suffice it to say that in train vs. wagon, train wins.

However tragic it is, the story (at least in my mind) probably would have ended there except for the last (so far) newspaper report I found about the accident. It can be seen below, and comes from the January 2, 1898 edition of the Wilmington Sunday Star. When I first read the original story I had, it didn't specify exactly where the collision occurred, only that it was at the crossing at Stanton. I assumed they meant the B&O crossing of Limestone Road, where the bridge now goes over the tracks between the middle school and Kirkwood Highway. Then I saw it was actually the PW&B tracks, but even then it didn't quite register. Finally I read the story below and saw what was being implied -- a lawsuit.

It was really only then that it occurred to me. Today, and for quite a long time before, you'd have to work pretty hard to have your wagon (or car for that matter) hit by a train at this particular crossing.

The Stanton Crossing of the (then) PW&B tracks
Except for the station that's no longer there, this is still (more or less) what the Stanton crossing of the PW&B tracks looks like. It's the infamous Stanton Underpass. The photo above was taken sometime soon after the turn of the century, probably before 1910. I wonder (and maybe someone out there knows more and can confirm or deny this) if due to a real or threatened lawsuit by the McBride's family, the railroad decided to put in the underpass and take away this potentially dangerous at-grade crossing. Perhaps the reason the picture was taken was to show off the new underpass. Maybe all the cars that stalled in the water under that bridge over the years did so because a family lost their lives on a cold and windy Christmas Eve morning.

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