Exeter, PA Train Wreck, May 1899


One Passenger Train Dashed Into Another at Exeter, Penn.


Greatest Railroad Disaster in the History of Pennsylvania - About Fifty Persons Badly Injured - The Cause of the Wreck -Narrow Escape of Senator Penrose - The Work of the Rescuers.

READING, Penn. (Special). -- The wreck at Exeter Station was almost without precedent in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia and Reading Railway has never had a catastrophe equalling[sic] it in horror. Fully twenty-nine persons were killed and at least fifty were more or less seriously hurt.

The express train from Williamsport, known as the "cannon ball," left this city at 8:45 p. m. Exeter is only a flag station, where the express does not stop, but WINDERMUTH, the engine driver, observed a signal and he stopped the train. Then he was ordered back to the station to await orders. A moment later, as he was backing his train, it was crushed into from the rear by a special train crowded with excursionists from Harrisburg, where they had attended the unveiling of the Hartranft statue.

The first train consisted of two express cars, a mail and baggage car, a combination car, two day coaches, a parlor car and a day car, in the order mentioned. The second train consisted of six day cars, one of which had aboard a company of the Sixth regiment, National Guard, whose headquarters is at Norristown, and another car contained members of the Montgomery Hose Company, of Norristown. The other four cars had regular passengers, including about twenty survivors of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania volunteers, Hartranft's old command.

The crash of the two trains was an awful one. The engine of the second ploughed through one day car and half way through a Pullman sleeper on the forward train, and the concussion was so great that the two first cars of the second section were ground into matchwood. Beneath these many of the passengers were thrown, and several were found later with their heads torn from the shoulders. One man was pinioned by the roof of the passenger car and lay at full length on his side on the engine, where he slowly roasted to death.

The rear car of the first section in which most of the killed were riding, was filled with passengers, every seat being occupied. Some of them heard the loud whistling of the approaching engine of the second section and there was an attempt on the part of many to escape from the car, but in a second all was confusion and death.

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