When a train derails, you know that there is going to be a big mess, and loss of life, or at the very least, injuries. And you would probably be right, but it would be a whole different situation, if multiple trains collided with each other. That is the exact scenario on January 17, 1929, in Aberdeen, Maryland, when two Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains and a freight train all collided. While the collision was horrific, the loss of life was amazingly less that expected.
On that day, passenger train Number 412, bound from Washington to Philadelphia, struck the freight train, who was also northbound, just after it pulled from a siding, by Short Lane station, near Aberdeen. The freight cars toppled onto the southbound track, directly in front of express train Number 121, from New York to Washington. There was simply not time to avoid the disaster. The wreck killed four trainmen and seriously injured another. Conductors of the two passenger trains declared none of their passengers were seriously hurt. Brakeman, K. A. Klein, on the freight train, and flagman, V. W. Stewart, were both killed in the first crash; and engineer of the southbound express train, A. C. Terhune, and M. Goldstein, his fireman, were killed when their train ploughed into the wreckage.
Bodies of the two from the freight crew and of the passenger firemen were removed and taken to a morgue in Aberdeen, but the body of the express engineer was still under the engine five hours after the wreck. The workmen were prevented from recovering it by outpouring steam. Leon Sweeting, engineer of the northbound passenger train, was badly scalded and was taken to the Havre de Grace Hospital, where his condition was reported to be serious. John H. Lee, fireman on the same train, was in the hospital, suffering from shock.
It is thought that heavy fog in the area, prevented the engineer of northbound number 412 from seeing the tail-light of the freight train right in front of him. Some passengers on the northbound and southbound trains were said to have been slightly injured, but none was reported in serious condition. The triple crash tore up about 150 yards of track and uprooted signal and telegraph poles. Trains had to be re-routed over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, while relief trains were sent from Baltimore to Aberdeen. While this was not the worst wreck, in fatalities and injuries, I don’t recall too many, if any others involving three trains, and the experience must have been terrifying.
With the upcoming release of the 3D version of the movie Titanic, discussion in our office turned to the passengers on that fateful voyage. My boss, Jim and his wife, Julie found out that there was a couple on board the Titanic named Charles Emil Henry Stengel who was traveling with his wife Annie May. I have been researching both my family tree, and theirs, so I told them I would check into it. Unfortunately, so far, I haven’t found the connection in their family that I am fairly certain exists, but I will keep looking for it. As I was looking for the name of those passengers, however, I found that there was a man named William Augustus Spencer, who was traveling with his wife Marie Eugenie. It has been my experience in my years of research, that most of people with the last name of Spencer are related, so I began researching William Augustus Spencer.
He was pretty simple to find, as he became famous when he died during the Titanic disaster. Of course, finding him doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to connect him to me. The good news is that the Spencer family is one of the few who kept extensive records. I followed the line backwards through names I had never heard of before, until I finally came to one I knew quite well…Gerard Spencer who married Alice Whitebread. To get to that connection, I had to go back to the 1500’s. Then moving to my own tree, and starting at Gerard, I followed the correct children to get back to William Augustus Spencer. After that, I requested a relationship connection between William and myself. I found out that William Augustus Spencer is my 7th cousin 3 times removed. I know that relationship seems very distant, and I suppose most would consider it so, but when you consider that Princess Diana was my 18th cousin, I guess 7th isn’t so far after all.
William was married as I said, but they had no children, so sadly his line ended on that tragic day at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean when the RMS Titanic met her fate. He was 57 years old. His wife Marie Eugenie died just 6 months later in Paris. She was only 46 years old. Strangely, I have found several survivors who died a short time after the Titanic sank. The causes of death have varied and really cannot be linked to the sinking of the Titanic, but I still find it strange. I don’t know what Marie’s cause of death was, but at 45 years of age, it seems strange to me…almost like she died of a broken heart.
William Augustus Spencer’s estate was valued at $2,218,650 of which $1,273,071 went to Marie and the remainder to his nephew and his sister, so Marie was not destitute. But money cannot buy happiness, as we all know, and it certainly couldn’t extend her short life. Their story is one that I find interesting, and even strange to think that one of my family members perished on that tragic day…that seemed so far removed from my family a mere 2 days ago. But, I also find it very sad to think that two lives were…ended that day. One just took 6 more months to complete the ending process.