the Rockport Train Wreck
No one could have predicted what happened in Rockport, right outside of
Hackettstown, early in the morning on June 17, 1925.
On Wednesday, November 8, at the Hackettstown
Historical Society's monthly meeting, Bob Stead recounted the story of
the Rockport Train Wreck, the worst train accident to happen in this
A severe summer electrical storm blew through the
area and lightning hit the Williams and Hibler lumberyard in
Hackettstown (where Blue Ridge Lumber is located today). Most of the
townsfolk were involved with the blaze that eventually burned the yard
to the ground. Yet, unbeknownst to anyone, the storm had also set the
stage for another, more deadly accident.
An eastbound special train filled with
German-Americans had departed from Buffalo, New York en route to
Hoboken, New Jersey and the transatlantic ships waiting for them. After
a brief stop in Scranton, Pennsylvania to change crews, the train
continued on towards its final destination.
The earlier storm had eroded the dirt road at the
crossing and around the track in Rockport. Traveling at about 50-70
miles per hour when it reached Rockport, the main wheels of the engine
derailed when it hit the debris-filled crossing and began riding along
the ties. The engine came to a grinding halt and flipped over. The two
passenger filled day coaches behind it decoupled and flipped over the
top of the engine. The impact caused the boiler to rupture and live
steam filled the coach, burning the passengers inside. It was the
steam, more than the accident, that caused the death of fifty people,
including every member of the crew except the flagman. The day coach
was later dubbed 'the death car' by the New York Times.
Hackettstown citizens and doctors helped the
accident victims on-site, using sheets and pillows from the pullman
cars to help make them comfortable. The injured were transported to the
hospital in Easton where ten additional passengers eventually died.
A bronze marker commemorates the site of the
accident. "The site hasn't changed much since it happened, and you can
still find pieces of debris," said Stead, who passed around a piece of
solid brass from the wrecked engine. "It wasn't anyone's fault," he
continued. "It really was just a tragic accident."