Train 24 and the Iona Island Wreck

by Dan Myers

     July 5, 1927 would be a busy day on the New York, Ontario and Western Railway.  The Stationmaster at AV noted that it was a clear 49 degrees when he signed on at 6AM.  This particular Tuesday marked the end of the three-day weekend and the O&W would handle 3,671 city-bound passengers on 12 southbound trains.

    Esther Girard paced the platform with her young daughter Barbara as they awaited the arrival of train twenty-four, a daily (except Sunday) southbound train originating at Summitville.  The Girards were headed to New York to buy maternity clothes as baby Constance was on the way. Twenty-four arrived on the advertised at 10:18 but where was Tom?  Thomas B. Girard, the O&W’s Superintendent of Car Service, was in his office finishing up some work as the train arrived. He bounded from his office and down to the platform, but by then the seats in the parlor car (located at the front of the train) were gone. They settled for a seat in the last coach.

    Twenty-four initiated its southbound trip at Summitville after meeting feeder trains from Kingston and Monticello.  Train 404 departed Kingston at 8:10 and stopped at Summitville on its way to Monticello and Port Jervis.  Train 401 left Monticello at 8:25 for its own meeting with twenty-four at Summitville. Train twenty-four accepted 55 Monticello passengers and 136 passengers from the Kingston Branch.  Engineer Brandt sounded two short blasts of the whistle and headed for Middletown at 9:46. The train had consisted of four coaches, but a baggage car and parlor car from the Kingston branch were cut in behind the tender at Summitville.

    The Girards settled into their seats in the last car as twenty-four whistled off at 10:25 making a non-stop run to Cornwall. The train left Cornwall at 11:13 for a one-hour and twenty-two minute express run to Weehawken. 

    The Girard family and 193 other passengers enjoyed the view of the Hudson River and soon passed under the US Military Academy at West Point.  Meanwhile, the “Ping Pong”, a local West Shore train began to make a cross over just above the Iona Island station.  Ontario & Western twenty-four passed under the Bear Mountain Bridge at speed and onto the curving Iona Island trestle. West Shore Flagman F. B. Palmatier, hearing the oncoming Ontario and Western express, ran back to try and warn the doomed train of the blocked trackage ahead.  It was too late. 

    Ontario & Western twenty-four slammed into a string of four empty passenger coaches that were attached to the end of the way freight.  The impact caused the O&W baggage car to separate from its frame.  The body of the baggage car telescoped up and over the parlor car instantly killing three passengers.  A fourth passenger died later at the Cadet Hospital at West Point.  In all, four passengers died and 23 were injured.  The Girards, who had been too late to board the ill fated parlor car, were uninjured. 

My father, who worked in the O&W’s Middletown shops during the summers of 1927 and 1928 never forgot the telescoped cars which were returned to Middletown the next day.

 The Middletown Stationmaster’s diaries serve as a postscript to the accident saying:

 #24,wrecked at Iona Island & (passengers) went to Wkn (Weehawken) on #4”

 This true story was told to me many years ago. A transcription of the story from the New York Herald Tribune will follow to provide more detail.


New York Herald Tribune

Wednesday July 6, 1927 

4 Die, 23 Hurt In Train Crash At Bear Mt. 

West Shore Vacation Express Bound for City Speeds Around Curve and Rams Rear of Freight

 Engineer Is Blamed For Ignoring Signals 

Baggage Car Shears Back Through Day Coach, Killing 3 Outright in Seats. 

Bear Mountain, NY July 5, 1927 

Wreck of Ontario & Western Express, in Which 4 Were Killed 

This photograph, taken a few minutes after the passenger train crashed into a standing freight on the West Shore tracks near the Iona Island station, gives a remarkable view of how the baggage car and first coach were telescoped.  No attempt had then been made to remove the dead and injured. 

    A vacation time express train of the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad, comprising a baggage car, four coaches and a parlor car filled with passengers returning from a holiday in the mountains, swept around the curve of the West Shore Railroad under the Bear Mountain Bridge at 11:35 this morning and crashed into the rear of the Newburgh-West Haverstraw freight train, which had pulled on to the middle track a few hundred yards from the Iona Island station. 

    The baggage car just behind the passenger engine was lifted clear off the track by the impact and its steel under-carriage sheared through the walls and half the length of the passenger coach immediately behind it.  Three persons were killed in their seats in the forward end of the coach and a fourth was so seriously injured that he died later in the Cadet Hospital on the West Point military reservation.  Eight others were seriously hurt and fifteen suffered minor injuries. 

Passenger Engineer Blamed 

    A statement from the New York offices of the New York Central Railroad said that a preliminary investigation indicated that the engineer of the passenger train, William Brandt, of Middleton, NJ (Authors question Middletown, NY ??) had disregarded the automatic block signals which had been set against his train.  An investigation showed that the signals were working properly.  In Weehawken, D. W. Dinan, General Manager of the New York Central, and James E. Davenport, Superintendent of the West Shore Division  

 ----section missing---

How one end of the car in which most of the casualties occurred was virtually torn off under the terrific impact.

Marines and Autoists Aid

    Marines from the naval depot and tourists from their automobiles on the bridge also came to the rescue of the injured.  Later ambulances arrived with physicians from Haverstraw, Nyack, Suffern, Newburgh and the Cadet Hospital.  Four of the seriously injured were sent to West Point and to St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh.

    The bodies of the three passengers who were killed outright were buried beneath the upraised baggage coach and could not be recovered until derricks lifted the baggage coach off the car in the rear.  State troopers identified Goldberg and found a card in the pocket of the other man bearing the name of Irving J. Samadovitz with no address other than the New Jersey Law School.  The bodies were taken to Haverstraw.

 Head –on view of smashed passenger coach, showing the roof folding down over the shattered platform.

 Bodies Wedged Under Seats.

    The bodies of the men were wedged under the debris in the forward seats of the day coach.  Playing cards were strewn about and on the roadbed outside their window.  Several of the other passengers were trapped in their seats by the telescoping of the car.  The first physicians who entered the coach told of one young woman whose hand was crushed beneath a broken seat and who watched without a whimper while debris was cut away.

    The freight train with which the Ontario & Western train collided is a way-train which operates on no regular schedule, but covers the tracks between Newburgh and Iona Island each afternoon, going north again in the morning as a combination freight and passenger.  Four empty passenger coaches were on its rear and into one of these the passenger engine crashed.  One of the six coaches of the passenger, with the exception of the baggage car, and one of the fifteen cars of the freight left the tracks.

    The rear of the freight was standing about 200 feet south of the switch in the center track into the Iona Island station.  F.B. Palmatier, the flagman had just left the switch in answer to whistle signals from the engine when he looked back and saw the passenger rounding the curve in the shadow of Bear Mountain.  He seized the flag and rushed back toward the switch but too late.

 Plows Into Freight Train

    The engine and first three cars of the passenger clattered over the switch and plowed into the freight.  A.J. Lewis the baggageman on the passenger, who was seated in the door of the car watching automobiles speed over the arch of the Bear Mountain Bridge, was thrown the length of the car but sustained only a slight hurt to the hand. 

 (Missing section)

    The Ontario and Western train was put into operation as a vacation express on June 27.  It was made up at Kingston and ran on the Ontario and Western tracks as far as Cornwall where it came on the West Shore Tracks.  It ran as an express from Cornwall to Weehawken and was due at Weehawken at 1:35, daylight time.

    It was due to pass through Iona Island at 12:34 and was on time.  The West Shore freight into which it crashed was known as the “Ping Pong”.  The one chair car on the train which was crowded with returning vacationists had been immediately in the rear of the engine until the baggage and day coach were added at Summitville.  Dr. Max A. Heipser, of 305 Lexington Avenue, and other passengers in the chair car rushed forward into the wrecked day coach ahead of them as soon as they had recovered from the jolt and began to take out the injured passengers.

    Commander J. S. Wood, senior officer at the munitions depot sent the staff doctors there to the scene and in response to urgent telephone calls from C. F. Fowler, the Iona station agent, physicians responded from every town in the surrounding territory, including the military academy.

 Navy Dispensary Treats Injured

    All the injured were carried on stretchers and afoot to the navy depot dispensary, and the less critically hurt were treated there.  Three members of one family wee kept there to-night but were not in a critical condition.  They were Harry B. Reisler, his wife Mrs. Hilda Reisler, and their six-year daughter, Shirley of 140 Park Place, Brooklyn.  All were cut and bruised, but will be returned to their homes to-morrow.  The other injured passengers were bandaged and treated at the dispensary and departed on subsequent trains.

    State troopers, county officers and city police from Bear Mountain aided in removing the injured and dead.  Coroner Dutcher and Leroy Relyea assistant superintendent of the West Shore, questioned Conductor W. E. Havens, Palmatier, the flagman and C. Radclffe and E. C. Cameron the trainmen of the freight.

The Dead

Goldberg, Barnett N. 1903 Bath Avenue, Brooklyn

Kessler, Dr. M. E. Dentist 1946 Sheridan Avenue, The Bronx, New York City.  Died in Cadet Hospital West Point.



The Seriously Injured

(at Cadet Hospital)

Nitishen, Mrs. Ida, 4210 Thirteenth Avenue, Brooklyn.

Kolsan, Ray (Miss or Mrs.), 438 Saratoga Avenue, Brooklyn.

Kessler, Miss Jenny, niece of Dr. Kessler, 169 Essex Street, New York.

 At St. Luke’s Hospital, Newburg

Hamenling, Sam. 1076 Falls Street, The Bronx, New York.

Hamenling, Mrs. Rebecca, same address.

Three others whose names were not obtained by the authorities were also injured.

Iona Wreck ICC Report - Adobe PDF Files - Special Thanks To Doug Barberio

New Photos from Steve Swirsky

Special Thanks to Steve for sharing these never-before-seen original photos!