Unwanted distinction: ‘Wreckingest road’

“In seven months there had been eight passenger train pile-ups on the three main lines running down the east coast to Florida resorts — the Seaboard, Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast Railway. Three of the wrecks were in North and South Carolina, where the swift streamliners slide through the night.

“In James Boyd’s ‘Marching On,’ a novel of the South in the 1860s, Big Bill the Brakeman, who rode the historic Wilmington-Weldon (N.C.) run, bragged that he worked on ‘the wreckingest road in the Union.’ The Carolinas were beginning to wonder if they were getting to be the wreckingest states.”

— From Time magazine, Jan. 14, 1946

One death explained, dozens still in cold case file

Nothing like a “ghost train” fatality to cast the international spotlight, however fleeting, on our vale of humility.

But the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 27, 1891, disaster at Bostian Bridge (hat tip to gendisasters.com) was perhaps as curious as last week’s deadly pursuit of paranormality.

An Iredell County  grand jury spread the blame among rotten cross ties, excessive speed and “a loose rail, the bolts and spikes of the same having been taken out by some person or persons unknown.”

Though none came to trial, a number of vagrants were hauled in as suspects. According to a newspaper report, “The tramps … are smiling. They are getting themselves … put in jail, getting square meals at the county expense and getting fat.”

Also benefiting was a Statesville man who undertook to manufacture walking canes from timber salvaged from the train cars. He had already made 40, it was reported, and was unable to keep up with demand.