The whole thing actually started with fraud. It was probably the first disaster in United States history to be caused by fraud. The Forest Hills disaster, which was also called the Forest Ridge disaster and the Bussey Bridge train disaster, was a railroad bridge accident that occurred on March 14, 1887, in the Roslindale section of Boston, Massachusetts.
It seems strange that an act of fraud could cause a disaster, but on that day, a morning commuter train was coming into Boston and was passing over the Bussey Bridge, a Howe truss, at South Street in the Roslindale neighborhood, located a half mile from the Forest Hills station. Suddenly, without warning, the Bussey Bridge collapsed. Several cars crashed to the street below. In the aftermath of the disaster, it was found that 38 commuters were killed, and 40 others were seriously injured.
There were nine cars on this train, and it was traveling over the Dedham Branch of the Boston and Providence Railroad. It was a bright and sunny Monday morning, and about 300 passengers, including several school children were on their way into Boston. The disaster struck when they were about six miles from Boston. As they crossed the Bussey Bridge, the locomotive and first two cars safely traversed the bridge, when suddenly, without any warning, the bridge just fell, taking the final six cars with it. It happened so fast that as the body of one of the cars fell, its roof tore off completely and landed on the embankment beyond the bridge. It was as if the roof kept going after the car dropped off of the bottom.
Any disaster brings great shock to a nation, or at least that area, and the suffering of the injured made it even worse. Some of the injured were impaled by splinters throughout their bodies and others were dismembered and yet others were badly mangled. As rescuers began their work, the very first body pulled from the wreck was a headless woman. It happens. A train wreck often mangles and dismembers bodies. There were also two young men who were pinned under a pile of rubble. A car stove full of glowing coals hung over them. Somehow, the doors of the stove stayed closed, and the bolts held it firmly in place. Strange things like that happen sometimes too. Those men were rescued. Somehow, they got a second chance.
So, how was fraud to blame, you might ask. In the aftermath, investigators found that the iron bridge design was quite poor. The bridge was never strong enough to carry the load of the rail traffic it had to serve. When they looked at the materials and the design, it was obvious. They also looked at the designer, Edmund Hewins. Their investigation exposed Hewins as a fraud. To make matters worse, the railroad had failed to inspect and properly maintain the bridge, even though they found nuts and bolts that had fallen from the bridge and were lying on the street below. They knew there were problems, but nothing was done, and the…it was just too late.