A head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train that was described as "one of the worst wrecks ever experienced by the Seaboard Air Line" happened 100 years ago today in Hamlet NC.
The passenger train was a "colored excursion" from Durham, headed to Charlotte. The freight train, coming from Wilmington, was under the impression that it had the all-clear. The collision happened right in front of the roundhouse. Photo courtesy of the NC State Archives.
The track at this place makes a sharp curve and both sides of the mainline were lined with box and coal cars. The freight train was crawling into the yards under the impression that no train was coming and Engineer Koonce was heading for Hamlet at a good clip, sure also that the track was clear. The two engines lie now beside the track fast to each other in a grasp of death. The wrecking crew have so far been unable to separate them. The crash was heard all over town and the whistles of the round house and the sound of the escaping steam from the contending engines called the whole town to the scene of carnage and death.
Newspaper accounts of the accident include graphic descriptions of the injured, including one passenger who was asleep until he was decapitated. A field hospital was set up under a repair shed to tend to the injured.
The task was great. Sixty people were seriously injured. Twenty-eight more were slightly scratched. Seven were dead, and of the sixty, one died while on the table. Mrs. Landrum, a trained nurse from the Presbyterian hospital, Charlotte, was nursing a case in town and volunteered her services. She gave skilled aid in a very trying position.
Some of the injured were put on another train and taken to the hospital in Charlotte. Because so much of the train had been damaged, uninjured passengers had to remain in Hamlet because there were no cars to transport them.
The excursion was being run by the St. Joseph's Methodist church of Durham, and was scheduled to reach Charlotte at noon and return tonight. The excursionists will return to Durham with heavy hearts and without seeing Charlotte. -- The News & Observer 7/28/1911
The Interstate Commerce Commission investigated the accident and determined that the dispatcher for the freight train, Mr. Purvis, sent a message that the passenger train had cleared the track. Although the dispatchers for both trains were working in the same room, Mr. Purvis failed to verify this information before sending the message.