Late one evening outside Ashtabula, in darkness, in the middle of a blizzard bringing 20 inches of snow, an iron trestle collapsed under the weight of a passenger train. The lead engine made it safely across, but the second engine and its trailing 11 passenger cars plummeted 70 feet to the Ashtabula River below, taking all of about 160 passengers and crew along with it. The wreckage exploded in flames, largely due to the oil lamps and stoves that were used in the train’s passenger cars. Many who weren’t killed on impact were burned alive, or were thrown into icy waters. In all, 92 people would lose their lives. At the time it happened, it was the worst train accident in U.S. history. Today, you can find a historical marker near the site that outlines the horrible event. A nearby cemetery, Chestnut Grove Cemetery, contains a monument to dozens of victims. Their remains were so badly mutilated that they were never identified. Most locals know the story, in part due to the enduring reminder that these monuments provide. However, like most stories of this size and age, they become distant from us. They become flat and factual. We lose touch of the reality of what living through something like this must have felt like.
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Artist's rendering of the conflagration, Dec. 29,1876, Ashtabula, Ohio