History Deals a Deadly Hand
May 12, 1907
We’ve been having fun all week with the Shriners, parading around in their costumes, engaging in peculiar rites and pondering silly questions like “What Makes the Wildcat Wild?” Then in a moment, a train wreck at Honda north of Point Conception transforms everything.
The engineer, Fred Champlain, ran three-quarters of a mile to the nearest ranch house for help even though he had a broken arm from being throw 40 feet from the wreck.
He told The Times that the engine hit a switch in the tracks. While the front of the locomotive stopped, the force lifted the rear so that the dining car was driven underneath the locomotive while the baggage car was thrown on top of the engine. The dining car, filled to capacity, split in half so that the passengers were scalded with steam from the engine. Others were buried under luggage and driven through the floor of the baggage car. Fortunately, a water tank for the engine was nearby, allowing survivors to fight the blaze that quickly broke out in the railroad cars.
“When Miss Cora Young of Cleveland was taken from the shattered diner she was still living but frightfully burned. Her entire body had been bathed in boiling water and when women passengers removed her corsets, the imprint of the staves was left deep in the scalded flesh,” The Times said.
“George F. Hagerman of Reading, Pa., refused help after being dragged from the wreck. “I’m dying,” he told his fellow Shriners. “Go help the women.”
One of the more heartbreaking stories involves newlyweds L.N. Ellenbogen and his wife, who were thrown to the ground on opposite sides of a car.
“Tell my wife that I am all right,” Ellenbogen said to Dr. Ware of Cincinnati, the first doctor on the scene. “Give her my love and let me know how she is.”
“Mrs. Ellenbogen, in return, sent a message of love to her husband with the assurance that she was all right. Before the physician could carry another message both had passed away,” The Times said.
The Times reported the final death toll at 32, although it looks more like 31. In addition to the Shriners, the crash killed the fireman, the brakeman, the conductor and one man who is only identified as African American.