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New York-Cincinnati Flyer: 1910

Train wreck near Middletown, Ohio. July 4, 1910 [erroneously reported at the time to have involved the 20th Century Limited -- see Comments]. View full size. Glass negative from the George Grantham Bain Collection.

Train wreck near Middletown, Ohio. July 4, 1910 [erroneously reported at the time to have involved the 20th Century Limited -- see Comments]. View full size. Glass negative from the George Grantham Bain Collection.


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Cincinnati and the 20th Century Limited

Although the route of the Twentieth Century Limited was New York City to Chicago, the following Big Four add appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24, 1903.

1910 West Middletown, Ohio Train Wreck

It was here in West Middletown, read on:

July 4th, 1910

The railroad brought several accidents which occurred within sight of the West Middletown depot --- a few resulting in fatalities. One claimed the lives of 36 people --- 21 met instant death --- and some 50 injuries. Death rode the rails that hot July 4, 1910.

A Big Four Twentieth Century Limited passenger train had been rerouted over the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton tracks due to a wreck which had occurred on its competitor's mainline at Sharonville. A CH&D freight train had orders to proceed north to clear the tracks for the southbound "flyer" out of Dayton. It was decided to sidetrack at West Middletown. As it was beginning to back into the siding, the Limited came around the corner out of Poasttown at 60 mph, driving head-on into the freight, causing a crash that could be heard miles away. The time as 1:02 p.m.

A News-Signal reporter wrote: "With the crash of the terrible impact, the grinding of iron and steel, the tearing of timber (cars were then made of wood), the hissing of steam and the wild shrieks of the situation may better be imagined than described. Those who saw and heard rushed wildly to the scene. Some called friends on the telephone and in a few minutes the news was ringing through Middletown and the doctors, undertakers and apparently the whole population was hurrying to the scene."

Middletown's main thoroughfare became a moving mass of humanity as the frightful news spread. People came by automobile, in horse rigs, on horses and on foot. Arriving at West Middletown, they fought for points of vantage, ignoring the danger of slipping on timber and debris to get a view.

Men worked in relay teams up to 4 o'clock when the railroad wrecking cars arrived and began pulling and lifting away the damaged cars. Nightfall found workers still at the scene, looking for more dead in the wreckage, but no more bodies were found. Railroad officials refused to comment or ever fix the blame for the accident. It seemed to be a matter of lack of communication in a day when safety measures were not so stringent as now, and railroad accidents were common. Just a few minutes later the freight would have been off the mainline, which station agent Lee Crider had been telegraphed to clear at 1:07. The passenger train arrived ahead of schedule.

What the people found in that cornfield along the river north of the highway stunned many with horror. Some of the victims were unidentifiable. The work of rescuing the injured came first as they were carried to the West Middletown depot, a quarter mile away. Local automobiles were put to use as ambulances as the injured were placed in them and taken to local physicians' offices or to the Elks Temple, the town having no hospital.

As soon as possible, those in serious condition were moved to hospitals, in Dayton, Cincinnati and Hamilton. Few now disputed the need for a local hospital, which had been debated for some years. The dead were cared for by four undertaking establishments of the time: Rathman & McCoy; A.T. Wilson & Son; J.D. Riggs; and Bailey & Bachman.

A local journalist, young James M. Cox, who would later become an Ohio governor and candidate for president, reported the accident to the Cincinnati Enquirer so graphically that the Enquirer offered him a job on that newspaper, thus launching him into a career that would leave behind Cox Media, today's multi-billion dollar corporation.

Information taken from Madison Twp. Bicentennial Sketches 1799-1999, by George Crout.

A DVD and a memorial service is in the works for the centennial anniversary this year. The above picture is among our collection.

Larry Helton, Historical Society of Madison Twp., West Middleton, Butler County, Ohio.

It was at West Middletown, Ohio

I'm from Middletown, Ohio and the places mentioned, e.g., Poastown/Post Town, are correct. I do not know the name of its predecessor but running from Cincinnati to Dayton, via Middletown, Ohio, was the New York Central in the 40s until the coming of Conrail in the late sixties. The railroad in the story is about two miles or less west of the NYC tracks in Middletown. The old Cincy, Hamilton, Dayton road (CH&D) became the B&O and is now, I guess, CSX. The depot mentioned in the newspaper account was in West Middletown, Ohio which is just west of the Great Miami River which separates both railroads. From the description given if one drives west across the Ohio 122 bridge from Middletown to West Middletown the crash was less than a quarter mile north of the crossing there in West Middletown.


Circumstances very similar to the recent Caltrans-Metrolink wreck. My how we've progressed in 98 years!


... The 20th Century Limited was an all-Pullman extra fare train. It did NOT include coaches in its consist during the steam age. The news story refers to 21 persons killed in the coach behind the smoker.

The Century lost its extra-fare status in 1957 when it was combined with the Commodore Vanderbilt, a coach streamliner.

[You are correct. The doubters are vindicated! Below, news item from July 7, 1910. - Dave]

Re: Not the Century

It was the 20th Century Limited, according to the photographer's caption, and numerous newspaper accounts of the time. See one example below. Click to enlarge. - Dave

Not the Century

According to my January 1910 Official Guide, Train 25, the westbound 20th Century Limited, made no passenger stops between Rochester NY and Elkhart IN, and the Big Four had no connections with it.

The eastbound Century, Train 26, made a stop in Cleveland where Big Four Train 26, The New York Central Limited, made a connection with the Century. Note that duplication of train numbers between systems was commonplace in the loose confederation of properties held by the Vanderbilts. It wasn't until 1936 that the New York Central "System" came to be, when most of the properties were consolidated into the NYC proper.

The New York Central Limited passed through Middletown but was not scheduled to stop there.

If this was, indeed, Train 26 that rammed the CH&D freight, it is possible the photographer got confused because of the duplication of train numbers and connection with the 20th Century. The Century itself ran ONLY over the Lake Shore & Michigan Central "air line" route to the north.

My sources state the collision at Middletown occurred as the result of a failure to deliver train orders. My references say 20 dead.

20th Century

He's not mistaken. This took place near Toledo in Northwest Ohio just north of the farm village of Genoa. My grandparents lived along the railroad in Martin, Ohio (pop. <100)close to Genoa and, in the 1960's I heard the stories of the wreck of the 20th Century Limited. The confusion may be that there was a tiny township town called Middletown Ohio near the site of the wreck-- not to be confused with the much larger city of Middletown in SW Ohio.

Wrecks how often

I wonder what the ratio of train wrecks/passenger miles traveled was then vs. today?

Cinci section

The newspaper article indicated it was the Cincinnati Section of the Twentieth Century Limited which probably was separated from the main train at Cleveland.

20th Century Limited

The train was the Cincinnati section of the 20th Century Limited riding on the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, and the wreck occurred at Middletown, Ohio. Click here to read an account of it in the Washington Post of July 5, 1910.

Wreck of the 20th Century Limited

The wreck site can not be Middletown, Ohio. The 20th Century Limited never ran thru that area of Ohio. (between Dayton and Cincinnati). The New York Central's crack 20th Century Limited ran along the NORTHERN Ohio lakefront route thru Cleveland and Toledo, known as the "Water Level Route".

[Looks like you're mistaken, if the newspapers of 1910 are to be believed. I've looked at at least a dozen and they all say Middletown (in addition the the caption etched on the negative). See comment above. - Dave]

Thirty-six dead

Thirty-six dead. It's a chilling photo with the ghostly man standing next to the engine.

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