THE ASHTABULA TRAIN DISASTER

This tragic event is the origin of the nearby Haunted Chestnut Grove Cemetery, where many of the train accident victims are buried. The accident was caused largely by the collapse of the railroad bridge.  Legend states that the ghosts of the victims return to the bottom of the bridge on the anniversary of the disaster.

The bridge was owned by the Lake Shore and Michigan railroad, and was the joint creation of Charles Collins, Engineer, and Amasa Stone, Chief Architect and Designer. Collins did not approve of Stone's bridge design, calling it "too experimental."  However, he reluctantly approved its construction due to pressure from the company and outside sources.

On the evening of December 29, 1876, the Pacific Express was traveling over the fated bridge, carrying approximately 159 passengers and crew members. Only the first engine made it to the other side, just as the bridge started to collapse. The rest of the train broke away and plummeted to the bottom of ravine below. Approximately 92 men, women and children were killed. Most did not die from the fall itself, but were literally burned alive while trapped inside the crushed cars--the result of oil lamps and stoves which ignited the fatal fire.

 

 

The accident occurred after a heavy snowstorm, making it difficult for rescuers to reach the victims. The town firefighters and citizens were ill-equipped and simply unprepared to deal with this kind of disaster. The rescue attempt failed miserably.

Approximately 25 of the dead were burned beyond recognition, and were buried in a mass grave in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

After testifying before an investigative jury, Charles Collins quietly went home and shot himself in the head. He was also buried in the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, several feet from the mass grave.

Amasa Stone committed suicide approximately 2 years later.  Stone was held partly responsible for the disaster by the same investigative jury before which Collins had testified, and was publicly scorned for many years (Stephen D. Peet, The Ashtabula Disaster, Chicago: J. S. Goodman-Louis Lloyd & Co., 1877).

 

BBelow, the Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

The mass grave of the unidentified victims and Charles Collins' crypt lie within a few feet of each other.

 

This towering marker stands over the mass grave of the unknown dead.

 

 

 

Many believe that this site is haunted by the spirits of the unknown dead, as well as that of Charles Collins.

In Spring 2001, the Northeast Ohio Ghost Research Team shot their own photos of possible spirits here. This day, none were found.

 

 

Below are close-ups of some of the inscriptions on the mass grave marker

 

 

 

The crypt of Charles Collins.

 

Interestingly, both the long-shot photo of the victims' monument and Collins' crypt came up "burnt-looking" in the photos developed later.

 

 

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Amasa Stone's Gravesite

 

The bridge's designer and architect, Amasa Stone, is buried several miles away from the disaster, at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland Heights. 

 

His ostentatious marker is similar to the mass grave marker at Maple Grove.

 

A closeup of the inscription on Amasa Stones's marker. His date of death, as it appears on the tombstone, is actually seven years after the disaster. 

His inscription further reads:

"The memory of the just is blessed."

More Hauntings

In its Halloween 2002 feature, Cleveland Digital City discusses additional ghost legends associated with the Chestnut Grove Cemetery.  Lisa Galloway writes, "Reports of wraiths near here are many… witnesses mention families dressed in period dress -- always warm winter clothes -- wandering together, often carrying carpetbags and baskets. Screams are heard late at night, many visitors say a charred odor pervades the grounds and near Collins' crypt a man can be seen weeping bitterly, crying out over and over, I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry.'"  Freaky. 

For her sources, Ms. Galloway cites Dead Ohio <applause> and Railroad Extra, a great website dedicated to U.S. railroad history and folklore.  Since Dead Ohio certainly did not report of such ghostly happenings, we checked out Railroad Extra.  We could not find anything specific on that site regarding the cemetery hauntings Ms. Galloway writes about in her article (or any other hauntings related to this grim event).  So, if anyone can substantiate those tales, please write us and share your stories.

 

The Bottom of the Bridge

Below, a great shot of the Ashtabula Bridge looking south, as taken in the summer 2002 by Fast-Freight, a railroad engineer. 

 

Here's a photo of a fascinating find by Fast-Freight--An old rail.  Although not yet confirmed, it could be a piece of the original rail from the accident. 

 

 

 

Ashtabula Bridge Memorabilia

Here's a rare and interesting vintage postcard of the aftermath, submitted by Fast-Freight.

 

 

Below are some stereoviews of the disaster, as generously submitted by Fast-Freight.  Stereoviews are  older versions of those toy Viewfinders, meant to give the viewer a 3D image.

The photographs were taken on December 30th, 1876, the day after the accident.    They are credited as being taken by Blakeslee & Moore of Ashtabula.
 


 


 


 


 


 

Other Sources

For more information about the Ashtabula train tragedy, check out:

The Ashtabula Railway Historical Foundation

The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876--article by Darrell E. Hamilton

The Ashtabula Bridge Disaster--Featuring the sad memoirs of Philip Bliss, who perished along with his wife in the accident.

The Corpse in the Cellar and Further Tales of Cleveland Woe--an on-line excerpt from John Bellamy's excellent, well-researched compilation of local true crime and morbid tales.  This book is one in a series of four, and--strictly in terms of research and writing quality--ranks above Chris Woodyard's overrated, fluffy books on Ohio hauntings and legends.  Before you beg to differ, read his books first.