Family visits site of Manchester rail tragedy.
MANCHESTER — With the waters of the Canandaigua Outlet rushing behind him, David Turan, of Syracuse, read the words of a memorial to the dead and injured in the Lehigh Valley train wreck of Aug. 25, 1911, and remarked about the history at this site.
Just 200 or so feet away is the railroad trestle over the outlet from which passenger rail cars heading from Buffalo to Sayre, Pennsylvania, plunged. Twenty-five people were killed that day, including Turan’s great grandmother. His grandmother, then 3, was one of the survivors.
“This puts it into perspective,” said Turan, who a year ago came to the nearby Manchester Caboose Park on a whim, hoping to find more information about the tragic circumstances.
Turan and his uncle, John Bayley, who came in from California, visited the park's museum earlier this week and took the short hike to the scene of the crash to learn more about local history, and their own.
They listened as Manchester Village Trustee Michael Buttacio, a retired rail employee, and Manchester Historian Timothy Munn explained what happened that day and its impact on Manchester and Shortsville.
They also learned from the visitors.
The 3-year-old survivor, Frances Smith, was Bayley’s mother, and she is believed to have been the only survivor in the particular car she was riding in with her mother, Hazel Smith.
Their car was found crushed in the outlet.
Bayley said his mother used to show the scar she got that day, and many family members were generally aware of the incident because of its notoriety.
“It was a family story,” Bayley said. “It’s interesting to see what it looks like now.”
In a cruel bit of coincidence, Hazel’s husband, Harry B. Smith, an engineer, was approaching from the opposite direction aboard a freight train. He saw the wreckage, and his daughter, suffering from a cut in her leg, walking around. He helped transport his wife and daughter aboard a horse and buggy to the hospital nine miles away in Canandaigua, according to a written account of the tragedy.
In later years Harry Smith would feel guilty over the death of his wife, Bayley said.
The family knew the two trains were to pass each other in this general area that day.
“They were going to wave because they knew they were going to pass,” Bayley said.
The tragedy was considered the worst passenger train derailment at the time, Munn told the visitors. Photos of the time show the scene, with victims, survivors, rescuers and spectators milling about, and twisted and crushed rail cars.
The cause of the crash was transverse fissure, which is a technical term for impurities in the rail. Scores of safety improvements were implemented in the years following the crash.
“There was some good that came from it,” Turan said. “For that, I’m grateful.”
Buttacio said hearing their story was remarkable, and noted the accident is the basis for the museum here.
“To see a descendant, who’s here because his family member survived, it’s unbelievable,” Buttacio said.