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Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads

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On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie. The last two cars of the express train were pitched completely off the tracks and plummeted into the creek bed below. When they struck botto On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie. The last two cars of the express train were pitched completely off the tracks and plummeted into the creek bed below. When they struck bottom, one of the wrecked cars was immediately engulfed in flames as the heating stoves in the coach spilled out coals and ignited its wooden timbers. The other car was badly smashed. About fifty people died at the bottom of the gorge or shortly thereafter, and dozens more were injured. Rescuers from the small rural community responded with haste, but there was almost nothing they could do but listen to the cries of the dying and carry away the dead and injured thrown clear of the fiery wreck. The next day and in the weeks that followed, newspapers across the country carried news of the Angola Horror, one of the deadliest railway accidents to that point in U.S. history. In a dramatic historical narrative, Charity Vogel tells the gripping, true-to-life story of the wreck and the characters involved in the tragic accident. Her tale weaves together the stories of the people some unknown; others soon to be famous caught up in the disaster, the facts of the New York Express s fateful run, the fiery scenes in the creek ravine, and the subsequent legal, legislative, and journalistic search for answers to the question: what had happened at Angola, and why? The Angola Horror is a classic story of disaster and its aftermath, in which events coincide to produce horrific consequences and people are forced to respond to experiences that test the limits of their endurance. Vogel sets the Angola Horror against a broader context of the developing technology of railroads, the culture of the nation s print media, the public policy legislation of the post Civil War era, and, finally, the culture of death and mourning in the Victorian period. The Angola Horror sheds light on the psyche of the American nation. The fatal wreck of an express train nine years later, during a similar bridge crossing in Ashtabula, Ohio, serves as a chilling coda to the story.


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On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie. The last two cars of the express train were pitched completely off the tracks and plummeted into the creek bed below. When they struck botto On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie. The last two cars of the express train were pitched completely off the tracks and plummeted into the creek bed below. When they struck bottom, one of the wrecked cars was immediately engulfed in flames as the heating stoves in the coach spilled out coals and ignited its wooden timbers. The other car was badly smashed. About fifty people died at the bottom of the gorge or shortly thereafter, and dozens more were injured. Rescuers from the small rural community responded with haste, but there was almost nothing they could do but listen to the cries of the dying and carry away the dead and injured thrown clear of the fiery wreck. The next day and in the weeks that followed, newspapers across the country carried news of the Angola Horror, one of the deadliest railway accidents to that point in U.S. history. In a dramatic historical narrative, Charity Vogel tells the gripping, true-to-life story of the wreck and the characters involved in the tragic accident. Her tale weaves together the stories of the people some unknown; others soon to be famous caught up in the disaster, the facts of the New York Express s fateful run, the fiery scenes in the creek ravine, and the subsequent legal, legislative, and journalistic search for answers to the question: what had happened at Angola, and why? The Angola Horror is a classic story of disaster and its aftermath, in which events coincide to produce horrific consequences and people are forced to respond to experiences that test the limits of their endurance. Vogel sets the Angola Horror against a broader context of the developing technology of railroads, the culture of the nation s print media, the public policy legislation of the post Civil War era, and, finally, the culture of death and mourning in the Victorian period. The Angola Horror sheds light on the psyche of the American nation. The fatal wreck of an express train nine years later, during a similar bridge crossing in Ashtabula, Ohio, serves as a chilling coda to the story.

30 review for Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As Charity Vogel notes in the conclusion of this book, it's shocking how completely this disaster has been forgotten, even in the area where it happened. When the last two cars of the Erie to Buffalo express train plunged fifty feet from a bridge to a frozen stream, dozens died. Despite the resistance of the railroads, the horrific accident led (eventually) to important changes in how trains were designed. This provides an interesting glimpse at the railroad experience just after the Civil War, t As Charity Vogel notes in the conclusion of this book, it's shocking how completely this disaster has been forgotten, even in the area where it happened. When the last two cars of the Erie to Buffalo express train plunged fifty feet from a bridge to a frozen stream, dozens died. Despite the resistance of the railroads, the horrific accident led (eventually) to important changes in how trains were designed. This provides an interesting glimpse at the railroad experience just after the Civil War, the ways in which disasters were handled at the time, and the intersection of businesses, newspapers, and the public. If, in the end, I found myself wishing Vogel had delved a little deeper, it's still a well written and absorbing account.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Viscerally tragic. In this day and age, we travel so easily, almost carelessly. We worry about delayed departures, bad weather, or grumpy fellow passengers. We harp about the cost of peanuts, headphones, baggage fees, and other minor annoyances. We purchase tickets for air or rail or ship without worry over standardized equipment or procedure from point A to point B. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was exciting that travelling great distances was possible for individuals and families. But it Viscerally tragic. In this day and age, we travel so easily, almost carelessly. We worry about delayed departures, bad weather, or grumpy fellow passengers. We harp about the cost of peanuts, headphones, baggage fees, and other minor annoyances. We purchase tickets for air or rail or ship without worry over standardized equipment or procedure from point A to point B. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was exciting that travelling great distances was possible for individuals and families. But it was not easy. Dirt, fumes, oil, grease, freezing cold, harsh jarring, and the possibility of any number of things could go wrong. The author does a great job of educating the reader of reality of train travel in the 1860's. Additionally, Charity Vogel explains why THIS train wreck truly "shocked the nation". The fact that civilians: men, women and children should die so grotesquely would be sensationalized by newspapers throughout the country. The idea of bodies being unidentifiable and some families never really knowing what happened to their loved one or being able to lay them to rest. This book is GRAPHIC, and necessarily so. We still travel with some degree of risk, but I urge you to read this book....and then I dare you to complain about how difficult it is today compared to then.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This was an interesting book. A pretty much forgotten train wreck that actually had a huge affect on train safety history. I enjoyed the book but wouldn't say it jumped off the pages. Like a lot of disaster books, I see people complaining about the descriptions of the victims. The gore. Well, once again, I say if you don't like to hear about that stuff, you probably shouldn't read disaster books. The reason why most of these kind of events stand out in history is the damage and death they cause. This was an interesting book. A pretty much forgotten train wreck that actually had a huge affect on train safety history. I enjoyed the book but wouldn't say it jumped off the pages. Like a lot of disaster books, I see people complaining about the descriptions of the victims. The gore. Well, once again, I say if you don't like to hear about that stuff, you probably shouldn't read disaster books. The reason why most of these kind of events stand out in history is the damage and death they cause. If only 2 people died on the Titanic, do you think it would still be so famous of an event? To understand what made these events effect people the way they did, you kinda need to know the horrific details. And I don't really think it was excessive in this book compared to some of the others I have read. But generally I think this was a good book. Not great, but still very informative. I found the writing a bit dull but it seems most of the authors sources were old newspaper articles, so that's not really the best material to work with. If you're a disaster reader like myself, it's a interesting book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rosie

    Angola is about 7 miles Eden, NY, my hometown....I've seen this bridge, but was unaware of the wreck. This story held my attention and even was a real page turner which surprised me for non-fiction. Perhaps it was as the book stated,"people developed a morbid sense of curiosity to hear the most minute particulars and sickening details." Anyway, I hope a memorial is present the next time I visit home. Angola is about 7 miles Eden, NY, my hometown....I've seen this bridge, but was unaware of the wreck. This story held my attention and even was a real page turner which surprised me for non-fiction. Perhaps it was as the book stated,"people developed a morbid sense of curiosity to hear the most minute particulars and sickening details." Anyway, I hope a memorial is present the next time I visit home.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rod Hensel

    The Angola Horror is well known among rail buffs as one of the great train disasters of history, a sort of Titanic on wheels. Here the author not only tells the story but also attempts to give us a feel for the lives of the people involved in the tragedy of 1867, in the style of David McCullough. By and large she succeeds and gives a good chronicle of an often forgotten event of our history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I thoroughly enjoyed the details as well as the way the story is presented, going back and forth between the narrative of what happened that night and its historic context as well as biographies of the passengers. I didn't quite finish but when I have time I'd like to take it out of the library again to read the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed the details as well as the way the story is presented, going back and forth between the narrative of what happened that night and its historic context as well as biographies of the passengers. I didn't quite finish but when I have time I'd like to take it out of the library again to read the rest.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    A labor of love, and it shows. Very well researched/annotated account of a mostly forgotten event. I did a bit of Internet browsing after finishing the book and am happy to find - thanks to Ms Vogel's efforts - renewed interest among younger people. A labor of love, and it shows. Very well researched/annotated account of a mostly forgotten event. I did a bit of Internet browsing after finishing the book and am happy to find - thanks to Ms Vogel's efforts - renewed interest among younger people.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Definitely not an uplifting book; sad but true. Makes you think how dangerous the world was. I thought the story and the implications for rail travel/safety were very well presented.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    I would give this 10 stars if I could. As a resident of the region where this tragedy happened,I had never heard of this event.The prologue was dry and I feared the book would be also,but I was wrong.The story builds with anxious anticipation! There were a few sessions I read that it was a page turner,kept me up reading late at night.I felt as if I knew each passenger,the victims and townspeople.The author "places" you in Angola,NY.I disagree with some of the reviews that said there was too much I would give this 10 stars if I could. As a resident of the region where this tragedy happened,I had never heard of this event.The prologue was dry and I feared the book would be also,but I was wrong.The story builds with anxious anticipation! There were a few sessions I read that it was a page turner,kept me up reading late at night.I felt as if I knew each passenger,the victims and townspeople.The author "places" you in Angola,NY.I disagree with some of the reviews that said there was too much graphic description.Once you "meet" each passenger you are "in it" to the end.Initially the injuries are described with the crash itself,but as each passenger or victim is rescued or recovered you do learn more about the physical damage, yes, it is very graphic,but this IS the story.This is the result of a horrific event. No rose colored glasses can take away the pain,death or carnage.This IS life and death.Just think of what the victims experienced! The author details unusual weather events for the year of 1867 that seemed to play out during the winter of 1867.The author's research was incredible,I learned so much about railroads as well as history of my own region.THE ANGOLA HORROR seemed to be a forgotten tragedy,so difficult to believe ,since our region is quite knowledgeable about our history. The victims deserve to be remembered and this book does just that.The unidentified victims are in a common grave in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, with no marker or monument to remember them.Their stories are handled with reverence.This tragedy changed railroad safety for the future. The author deserves the highest praise for her research and writing,there is beautiful prose in many areas of this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pam Koenig

    Being quite familiar with the area in which this takes place I was very interested in something I knew little about. I have passed by the area where the crash took place, saw a marker & heard ghost tales about it, but never knew the true story. The horror of what happened not just to the passengers, but to the residents of the area who witnessed it is almost beyond belief. I don't think I ever gave a thought to how a train was supplied with heat or light in that era. The reality of the dangerous Being quite familiar with the area in which this takes place I was very interested in something I knew little about. I have passed by the area where the crash took place, saw a marker & heard ghost tales about it, but never knew the true story. The horror of what happened not just to the passengers, but to the residents of the area who witnessed it is almost beyond belief. I don't think I ever gave a thought to how a train was supplied with heat or light in that era. The reality of the dangerous conditions seem almost infallible. To think that candles and stoves in a wooden rail car that's interior was covered in varnish was common place seems almost unbelievable. It saddened me to learn that unlike other disasters of the time, no monument or marker over the graves was ever erected in Forest Lawn Cemetery to remember those who were never identified. The only indication even at the scene of the crash is a small sign. It seems to me that it's way past time for the historical societies in the area ban together and correct this oversight. Maybe it's time for them to also hold a few fund raisers not just to get markers erected, but maybe even to have DNA testing done to truly identity those who were burnt beyond recognition and left in an unmarked grave. If you love train history, know the area or are interested in how and why disasters happen, I think you would enjoy this story.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lori Shafer

    In 1867, Americans were feeling the shock waves caused by the American Civil War. At the time, many could not imagine another event that could compare. Then on a cold December day, a train bound for New York derailed near the town of Angola. Suddenly the whole of the nation was focused on another tragedy. The horrifying deaths of so many innocent lives brought fear to all who heard of them. Even though the Angola train wreck has faded from memory, it left behind a need for change. A public outcr In 1867, Americans were feeling the shock waves caused by the American Civil War. At the time, many could not imagine another event that could compare. Then on a cold December day, a train bound for New York derailed near the town of Angola. Suddenly the whole of the nation was focused on another tragedy. The horrifying deaths of so many innocent lives brought fear to all who heard of them. Even though the Angola train wreck has faded from memory, it left behind a need for change. A public outcry demanded the government step in and make train travel safer. They did not want to see another "Angola horror." Charity Vogel pens a startling account of a rarely known accident. Using personal accounts, newspaper articles, and illustrations, she brings to life the tragic events of 1867. The horror and shock experienced by survivors and witnesses is felt by the reader. Even though some of the dead remain unidentified, she gives them a voice and a story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rex Libris

    The book is about a train accident in western New York in 1867. Two coaches derailed and fell off a viaduct, falling 50 feet. In one of the coaches, the coal burning stove spewed the coals over everything and a great many passengers were killed and burned beyond recognition. The residents of the small community of Angola where the accident occurred worked diligently to save those they could, and the community and the wreck were international news for a while. Indirectly inspired by the horror of t The book is about a train accident in western New York in 1867. Two coaches derailed and fell off a viaduct, falling 50 feet. In one of the coaches, the coal burning stove spewed the coals over everything and a great many passengers were killed and burned beyond recognition. The residents of the small community of Angola where the accident occurred worked diligently to save those they could, and the community and the wreck were international news for a while. Indirectly inspired by the horror of the accident, George Westinghouse created and perfected his air brake. John D. Rockefeller missed the train, but his luggage was destroyed in the incident. The author wrote the book as a memorial to those lost in the wreck now forgotten by the passing of time. She dramatized much of the events, and the book has a "Devil in the White City" feel about. this is what is best and worst about the book. Vogel is a gifted writer and really brought the events to life in a very emotional and moving matter. In some ways I think she did too much of it. What I found lacking was any lengthy technical analysis of what happened. There very well may not have been much to off of in the original record. But it would have been interesting if she had brought in current experts to analyze what she found, much as a current author had done with the Eastland disaster.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I didn't expect this book to be as tragic or to hurt as much as it did. Vogel knew her history and the details of the train accident are revealed in excruciating detail--an entire carriage going up in flames, who's trying to escape where, how much they were hurt... A good read if you're into train/Western New York history, but not for the faint of heart. (Three stars because although this was good, I did have to put it down a few times because I couldn't deal with how much blood was on the page- I didn't expect this book to be as tragic or to hurt as much as it did. Vogel knew her history and the details of the train accident are revealed in excruciating detail--an entire carriage going up in flames, who's trying to escape where, how much they were hurt... A good read if you're into train/Western New York history, but not for the faint of heart. (Three stars because although this was good, I did have to put it down a few times because I couldn't deal with how much blood was on the page--make of that what you will. I don't think the gore was overdone by any means, and to some degree I think it's necessary to convey why this train wreck was terrible, but at the same time, I think a narrative like this should keep you reading, fast-paced, because you NEED to know what happens next. Too much blood and you get distracted from the overarching narrative--does that make sense?)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This was almost a 4 star but I got a little bored at the end. It's the story of a horrific train wreck in December 1867 in which the last 2 cars of a passenger train derailed on a trestle over a 50 foot drop into a frozen creek. That would have been bad enough, but the railroad cars were heated by coal stoves. One caught fire and burned. Most passengers were injured but alive when it caught and went up in a matter of minutes. The book gives some history on some of the passengers, the railroads ( This was almost a 4 star but I got a little bored at the end. It's the story of a horrific train wreck in December 1867 in which the last 2 cars of a passenger train derailed on a trestle over a 50 foot drop into a frozen creek. That would have been bad enough, but the railroad cars were heated by coal stoves. One caught fire and burned. Most passengers were injured but alive when it caught and went up in a matter of minutes. The book gives some history on some of the passengers, the railroads (they were SO dangerous), how/why the wreck happened, and the impact it had on the small town of Angola. A bit gruesome, but well worth it, IMO.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Becky

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  17. 4 out of 5

    Art

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Beil

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lori

  21. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  22. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  23. 5 out of 5

    Derek

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elissa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rae

  27. 5 out of 5

    N

  28. 5 out of 5

    KR Redmond

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rena

  30. 4 out of 5

    david r williams

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