Hoboken, NJ Collapse Of Ferry Bridge, May 1854

ALARMING ACCIDENT AAT HOBOKEN.

FALL OF THE BARCLAY STREET FERRY BRIDGE.

ONE HUNDRED PERSONS THROWN INTO THE WATER -- SEVERAL SUPPOSED DROWNED -- MIRACULOUS ESCAPE OF HUNDREDS ON THE BRIDGE.

An accident of the most painful and alarming nature occurred between 5 and 6 o'clock last evening, at the Hoboken Ferry on the Jersey shore, by which the lives of some five hundred persons, men, women and children, were placed in peril. The ferry bridge, erected for the landing of passengers to and from Barclay street, New York, fell with a loud crash, while upward of 500 persons were standing on it, awaiting the arrival of the next steamboat. A wild cry of alarm arose, and at one time it was supposed that more than half of those on the bridge had met with watery graves. The shrieks and cries for help were heard in every direction from those strugglilng in the water and clinging to the bridge. The scene was truly appalling. When the news of the catastrophe reached out City it spread with great rapidity, and thousands flocked to the opposite shore in search of their friends. All sorts of exaggerated accounts were afloat, which led the people to believe there was a large number of lives lost. One man hastily entered the exchange of the Astor House, and assured the gentlemen present "that over fifty persons were killed." Others were positive that over one hundred had met with untimely death by this disaster. Soon after the sad occurrence, one of our reporters repaired to the scene, and obtained full particulars of the sad catastrophe. The steamer John Fitch was just entering the slip adjoining the Atlantic Hotel when the bridge gave way. It was then near 6 o'clock and the number of visitors anxious to return to Barclay street in that boat was immense. Hence the entire bridge was densly crowded with between five and six hundred persons, and the ferry master was unable to admit any more. As the pilot of the Fitch rang the bell to back one or two turns, the middle cable chain on the north side of the bridge, suddenly broke, and owing to a great weight on the bridge, the balance of the suspension chain; also parted and the bridge went down into the water. The tide was full flood, and the depth of water at high tide is not less than fifteen or sixteen feet. The rear part of the bridge is fastened to the dock, and the iron gables were used for hoisting and lowering the bridge to meet the steamers and suit the tides as they ebb and flow. The steamboat was crowded with passengers, and as the bridge was precipitated to the water, the most alarming excitement was manifested for the safety of those who were upon it. Their condition being quickly observed by the pilot of the John Finch, he instantly gave a signal to stop the machinery, which order was immediately obeyed by the engineer. The steamer was pushed outward a few feet, and the other part of the ship was filled with men, women and small children, among whom were several infants who had been thrown into the water by the falling bridge. The repeated screams of the helpless beings for assistance aroused everybody within their hearing, and nothing was left undone that could render them any aid. The painful scene was of a character that quickly startled the spectators, and to describe it in detail, would require more space than our columns afford this morning. Small row boats, scows and other crafts, were speedily brought from the other ships, and in less than ten minutes over fifty persons had been saved by the main strength of those who manned the boats. Two athletic young men, named FRANK McDONOUGH and WM. ROWE, of Hoboken, are deserving of great credit for their noble acts in the rescue of some forty men and women who were clinging to the fender poles almost exhausted. These men were outside of the Ferry gates when the accident took place, but scarcely had the steamer backed three feet before they leaped into the water and were the sole means of saving a large number of valuable lives as they were about going down for the third and last time.
Numerous others of the three or four hundred citizens who were suddenly plunged into the water, crawled out on the dock without help or the least assistance; one poor woman with an infant in ther arms, was observed as she raised her head above the surface of the water, and a courageous man leaped in the water and swam ashore with both of them on his back. The babe was clinging to its mother's dress and astonished many persons by its apparent calmness when brought ashore by the kind hearted man alluded to above. Among those who were released, some five or six prsons were found to be injured and were forthwith taken into the Atlantic Hotel, where Captain BARKER and his kind lady rendered them every assistance to alleviate their suffering.
One lady receiving a severe cut in the face was MRS. MARTLING, and a resident of Brooklyn named JONAS STRIVER had his knee pan cracked. Those who received kind treatment at MR. BARKER'S house were soon enabled to leave for their residences. All the persons that could be seen floating about the slip were finally brought ashore in safety, but there is cause to fear that several lives were lost.

The New York Daily-Times 1854-05-29