By Thomas D’Agostino
Sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning on Saturday, September 5, 1887, Vermont’s worst railroad disaster took place a few miles from White River Junction as the Vermont Central Railroad express train from Montreal jumped its tracks and plummeted onto the frozen White River below. The engine was towing a baggage and express car, a mail car, two ordinary passenger cars, and two sleeper cars. Many were on their way from Boston to see the circus in Montreal.
The 650-foot-long bridge spanned the White River at a height of 50 feet. At the time, subzero temperatures had formed a two-foot thick surface of ice on the river. As the train sped down the tracks, the engineer was not aware of a broken rail about 200 feet from the viaduct. When the engine hit the fracture, the cars slammed into each other, breaking the coupling between the forward sleeper and the other cars. The engine, baggage and smoking cars passed over the bridge safely but the rearward cars, striking the ties, came to the end of the bridge and completely tore away the heavy beams that supported the bridge, sending cars and bridge toppling onto the frozen river below.
To make matters worse, the coaches and bridge exploded into flames on the thick ice. 40 people were killed immediately and another 40 were badly injured or burned. The intense heat melted the ice, making rescue efforts extremely difficult. In the end, 50-60 people perished from the result of the wreck. 13-year-old Joe McCabe was able to free himself from the burning twisted debris but could not save his father as he became consumed by the flames.
The wooden bridge was replaced with a steel overpass, making it much more sturdy and safer. Travelers passing across the new structure began to notice a little boy near the river below. Many thought nothing of it but some noticed something was not quite right about the young man. The figure appeared to be translucent as it stood silently. Even more odd was the fact that he was sometimes seen hovering above the water. Many witnesses since the tragedy have seen this apparition wandering the site below the bridge. Other remnants of the tragedy are witnessed as well. One is thought to be the conductor who also perished in the wreck. He is often seen wandering the track, inspecting them to make sure they are they are in perfect order as to avoid another deadly wreck. There are also claims of a ghostly locomotive silently rolling over the bridge with no cars attached to it.
The spirit of the young man lingers there although he did not die in the disaster. Perhaps it is the place his ghost returned to after he died due to the traumatic incident that he was part of. Others tend to think it is nothing more than a residual entity moving about the scene of the wreck. His visage appearing a few feet above the water, would account for his being on the ice that was about that height at the time of the tragedy.
Take a trip to the bridge but beware of the phantom train that might silently steam by, or the countenance that might be spied hovering above the rocky stream.
You may reach Tom D'Agostino at www.tomdagostino.com