Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Quincy Horror


The end of summer was drawing to a close, and nine friends and family members from Louisville, Kentucky, were wrapping up their vacation at Nantucket with a quick train ride to Boston on the appropriately named Old Colony Railroad.

Among those in the traveling party were Judge I. W. Edwards, and the wife and family of Oscar Fenley, then president of the National Bank of Kentucky, who was to join the group shortly.

While the train was en route to Boston that August in 1890, unbeknownst to the passengers—and likely, the train's engineer, as well—some section hands had been working on the tracks beyond a curve in the route. They were using what was called a "track jack" which, left in place as the train approached—having received no safety warning from the workmen—caused a derailment ejecting passengers from their seats. 

The immediate derailment caused the steam engine to rupture, sending steam into the passenger compartment, further injuring those who had not been killed upon impact. Those passengers who could assisted the injured others outside to safety, and eventually help arrived to attend to the medical emergencies.

The local hospital in nearby Quincy, Massachusetts, was overwhelmed with the amount of medical care which needed to be provided. One newspaper report remarked, "No tongue can describe the scene at the city hospital."

Meanwhile, news wire services had picked up the story, as many of the travelers were from homes hundreds of miles from Quincy. Reports of the train catastrophe kept adding to the count of dead and injured at the scene—newspapers carried the story, dubbed The Quincy Horror, across the midwest, like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Indianapolis, Indiana. Many newspapers focused their reports on victims of the crash who were residents of their own city, such as this report from Cleveland, Ohio. Continued stories updated the count of the dead. To add insult to injury, some stories revealed that pickpockets worked the scene of the crash as well, lifting watches, jewelry, and money from victims too dazed to respond.

I wouldn't have known about this train wreck in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1890 if it weren't for one detail: my search to outline the descendants of one woman from colonial Maryland. Among those many dead and injured, one family stood out in news reports for their collective losses that day: the Fenley family from Louisville, Kentucky, the very family I had been researching from my mother-in-law's colonial roots. We'll piece together that list of casualties tomorrow, and see how they fit into the family constellation.


  1. What a fascinating piece of history to come across! It's sad but yet quite fortunate to find those newspaper accounts include names of people so that you can trace those ancestors.

    1. Yes, quite tragic. I had no idea! And you're right, Sara, those news reports are helping me piece together the family tree...with a few of the usual editorial errors to throw me off the trail ;)

  2. Replies
    1. I can't begin to comprehend the extent of the mourning for this one family. On the other hand, stories such as this put me in mind of more recent news along a similar line. With this example, for instance, I couldn't help but think of the recent derailment news from, I think, around your region of the country, Miss Merry.


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