Bridge To A Tragedy


Submitted a year ago
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allanstein390

Ghost of boy is said to haunt 'Great Train Wreck of 1887'

The tragic past is long gone but it is not dead at the old Woodstock bridge on Route 14 in Hartford -- site of one of the worst train wrecks in Vermont history.

Sometimes, late at night, people say you can still hear the forlorn cries for help and smell the stench of burning wood. And maybe -- just maybe -- you might catch a glimpse of the ghost of a small boy who watched his father die in the accident 130 years ago, down by the water's edge.

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Today, a menacing gray sky lingers over the old steel bridge where more than 30 passengers perished in sub-zero weather shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 5, 1887.

The cause of the accident is believed to have been a defective or broken rail some 18 rails south of the bridge. The rail had fragmented into several pieces near the center, causing a fire when the Montreal Express, carrying 77 passengers, passed over it.

Photos courtesy of Hartford Historical Society

“When it reached the bridge it took the fearful plunge,” pulling two sleeper cars and the two day coaches with it to the icy waters of the White River below, wrote Clyde Berry and Pat Stark in “The Great Train Disaster of 1887,” compiled and edited for the Hartford Historical Society.

According to this well-documented historical account, the recovery effort took three days as townspeople sifted through the burning wreckage to retrieve the charred remains of the victims.

Photos courtesy of Hartford Historical Society

One survivor, Joseph Maigret, a poor French boy, watched his father burn to death after he became stuck trying to escape through the window of a burning passenger car.

In the boy’s own words, “we struck the ice. And I crawled out of the window, and then I tried to pull my father out, who was held down, he could get his legs out of the window, and that was all.

“ ‘Pull me out,’ he said, ‘if you break my legs.’ And I pulled and worked them for 10 minutes. Then it began to get hot there, and I couldn’t stay, and he told me to go away.”

“ ‘Tell your mother good bye,’ he said, and then I had to go away.”

It is said that the spirit of the grief-stricken boy appears near the river from time to time, as if waiting for his father to return.

“I have heard that a young boy was trying to get his father out and the flames got too big and he had to leave and watch his father die. He is supposed to be the one who haunts this place,” says Hartford Historical Society Director Martha Knapp.

“People will come up to me and say these things, that they saw a ghost,” she said. “I don’t know if the [stories] are true, but I’ll listen to them. They say it’s a little boy. I’ve never seen him, personally.”

But as the commemorative plaque below the bridge that marks the tragedy makes abundantly clear, the past never dies or goes away.

It is a story that always wants to be told.

(Just a cautionary note: the replaced bridge is still very much in use and dangerous to pedestrians. On Nov. 27, 2015, an 18-year-old boy was killed and his friend critically injured after they were hit by the southbound Amtrak Vermonter while crossing the bridge. No-trespassing signs are clearly posted.) 

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