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On August 11, 1880 the town of Mays Landing was called to serve in a most unexpected and tragic circumstance. Just seven weeks before, the spur of the new railroad was opened, connecting their hometown to the cities of Philadelphia and Atlantic City. In a private excursion of as many as 1800 men, women and children, chartered this first event of the inaugural season. It was an exciting day for the new 'West Jersey Line'.
Passengers were parishioners hailing from St. Anne’s Literary Society and neighboring Philadelphia churches. They left early from the city, taking the ferry into Camden then leaving for the shore with twenty four passenger cars scheduled. However, rather than run one consist to Atlantic City, the party was divided into two trains comprised of sixteen and eight passenger cars. Not only were the cars over occupancy limits, but rules of trains following each other would necessitate enforcement. On this first charter, regulations were neglected.
After a day of pleasant memories at the beach, they boarded the cars for the return. The first train left for a 6PM departure, followed by the second at 6:05PM. Seventeen miles from Atlantic City, they reached the town of Mays Landing during an evening rainstorm. In clearing the single track for the down express, they pulled over onto the siding as they approached the trestle over the Great Egg Harbor River. While the first train was still clearing the track of the last two cars, the second locomotive telescoped the first in a rear end collision, erupting into a boiler explosion. In their panic, passengers broke through windows and jumped into the river below as others in the last car were scalded by the steam cylinder. With temperatures upwards of 200 degrees, the casualty list eventually climbed to eighty injuries and fatalities. The accident scene overwhelmed the small community as the passengers outnumbered the town’s entire population. Unprepared for the extent of the calamity, neighbors then became unexpected first responders, while their homes were transformed into emergency rooms and morgues. Dozens of newspapers across the country carried the story, acknowledging the kindness extended by the citizens of Mays Landing. However, the story was squelched by New Jersey press outlets and ultimately veiled from the government agencies as well as history books. In an era when rails ruled the roads and class determined privilege, their story was mysteriously lost...until now.
Introduction to our Investigation...
American Hotel (leftside)-Now home of the Atlantic County Library and
Baker's Union Hotel (rightside)(demolished)-the first locations where
victims were brought after the accident. Upper left is what
remains of the trestle today and photos of the cotton mill,
"Mays Landing Water Power Company"
Top photos are records found in the State Archives, indicating proper
protocal was not followed in the documentation of this deadly event.