(Fifty-seven) years ago on February 28, 1956, our little town of Swampscott entered the history books.
There aren’t many around now who remember that fateful day. Newcomers say, “What train wreck” and pass the memorial without a thought as to the horror of the day. This little story is a reminder, lest we forget.
A Nor’easter was ravaging New England with gale force winds and freezing temperatures. This vicious storm brought heavy snow which forced the closing of schools throughout the thirteen states and caused havoc on the highways.
Railroad commuters didn’t worry during days such as this and felt confident with their choice of travel. Once aboard the train, travel was not a problem, they could sit back, if so inclined, sip coffee, read the newspaper or simply relax and let the train just sail along the tracks. Their motto seemed to be borrowed from a famous advertisement, “Leave the driving to us.”
This train’s next stop was to be Swampscott but for one reason or another, it was stopped behind Essex Oil Company, just before the Swampscott Depot. Another train, seemingly running late, traveling at full speed smashed into the stopped train, pushing it about fifty feet forward and underneath the stopped train. The train tore apart as if it were a tin can.
In this instant, eleven passengers were killed, as well as the engineer and the fireman of the second train. Bodies were strewn across the road like a bloody war zone.
Whenever horrible accidents or events occur it seems to me not enough attention or credit is given to the men and women who rush in to help save the victims as everyone else is running away. Our brave firemen, policemen and medical personnel are always Johnny-on-the-spot. Let’s always be thankful for our often unsung heroes.
Some years passed before there was a successful effort to have a memorial plaque recognizing the people who died in the Swampscott train wreck. On Saturday, November 19, 2003 the Swampscott Historical Society, the MBTA and the town of Swampscott invited the family and relatives of the deceased, along with interested persons to attend the emotional service, which was held at the Swampscott Depot.
Thousands of travelers pass that piece of granite, perhaps without a thought of the thirteen names carved into that stone. “Those to be remembered are”: Walter D. Allen, Ruth F. Bean, Francis D. Boettner, Alberta L. Haley, Raymond F. Jones, Penelope Kotsovilis, Walter B. Lee, Pauline Pavlo, George S. Sillars, Donald K. Taylor Jr., Ernest A. Tourtellotte, Gardner S. Trask Sr. and George V. Warren Jr.
Editor's Note: In recognition of the tragic train crash that took place 57 years ago in Swampscott we are re-running a story by Amy Lockerbie Smith from last year, as well as posting photographs courtesy of the Swampscott Firefighters Union. We have also included a video that includes recollections from Lou Gallo's History Buffs.