1906 Atlantic City Train Wreck and residents of Wenonah


Easter in 1906 was on April 15. The next Thursday on April 19th Claire sent a postcard from Atlantic City to Master Steuart DeKlyne in Wenonah saying that she would see him on Sunday April 22. The Flett Studio was at 1517 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ. It was a well known studio and big names like the owners of Bamberger's Department store would stop there for a portrait.

Perhaps they met in Atlantic City or perhaps in Wenonah. Claire and Steuart probably had little choice in their meeting. Steuart turned six years old in October of 1906. Claire's age is not known.

The postcard above was offered for sale on eBay in 2015 and the fact that it was addressed to someone in Wenonah made it interesting.

The West Jersey and Seashore Railroad had advanced to the point of installing electric powered passenger rail service during 1906. Going to electric would make for a quick clean ride from Camden to Atlantic City. On the express train you could get to Atlantic City in about one hour which is nearly as good as you can do today by car.

Steuart was the adopted son of William H. Steuart and Sarah Alice Steuart.

Mr. Steuart can be found in the US Census records for Wenonah as living on Princeton Avenue in 1910 and 1920. He shared a house with his sister, who was the wife of grocer, James F. Baylies, who had a large house built at 205 S. Princeton Ave. in 1904. From cemetery records it can be seen that William and Alice tried hard but unsuccessfully to have a family. Sarah gave birth to Mary Elizabeth in 1879. In 1881 while Mary Elizabeth was just a toddler, Robert Steuart was born. Both children died in August of 1883. I can't determine what disease carried the two children off. It could have been measles, smallpox, cholera, or diphtheria. The bacterium that causes diphtheria was not described until 1883.

On October 28, 1906 the Steuart family made an afternoon trip to Atlantic City, perhaps to visit Claire's family. They would have to had taken a train up to Camden in time to catch the departure of the 1:20 PM express to Atlantic City. They could spend most of the afternoon on the boardwalk if the weather was decent and get back to Wenonah in time to get a good night's sleep before Monday morning.

They made their connection on time. Perhaps William could take his family free using some sort of rail pass offered to railroad employees. William and Alice took along Steuart and found seats in the middle car of three cars. The train had about 94 people on board.

Among those on board there was Tosca's Royal Artillery Band from Philadelphia headed down to Atlantic City for a week's engagement. William Edward of Woodbury and his girlfriend,

As they approached the last stop before Atlantic City at Pleasantville they passed another electric train headed up to Camden. That train had been delayed for a few minutes as a newly constructed swing bridge had been opened to allow the schooner Sinbad to pass along a creek call “The Thoroughfare.” Once the bridge was closed the eastbound train proceeded normally.

In Atlantic City a number of people waited for the arrival of the express train from Camden.

In Pleasantville 13 people got off the train.

At least 51 of the people who remained on the train never made it to the Atlantic City station alive.

As the train was crossing the bridge near the east end of the portion of the bridge that moved aside the first car derailed and went off the south side of the bridge pulling the rest of the train with it. The second car went under water as did the first, but the third and last car hung on the bridge for a moment and the brakeman in that car opened the rear door and held it open for people to escape. The cars fell into 15 feet of water and the people trapped in the first two cars had very little chance for escape.

Some did get out, and some who got out even dove down to try to rescue others.

As reported in The Syracuse Herald, Oct. 30, 1906.
"Among those who had been reported missing was William H. Steuart of Wenonah, N. J, whose wife and son are included in the list of dead. Stewart was located last night in the city hospital. He is suffering from shock and bruises. He tells a remarkable story of his experience. With his wife and their adopted son, Stewart occupied seats in the second coach. When the train plunged into the stream, he saw his wife and son hurled to the floor of the car Steuart, who had been sitting near a window, was thrown into the water.

When he came to the surface he floated through an open window back into the coach, and bis hand came in contact with the bell rope. Hanging on to this rope Steuart dragged himself to door of the car and was soon on the roof. The coach had been completely engulfed, and from his perilous position he was rescued and hurried to the hospital in an unconscious condition. Not until last night did he learn that his wife and son had been killed."

The following report was published The Woodbury Times on Oct. 31, 1906, in the "Wenonah Whisperings" column.

"Mr. Steuart was not killed as reported, but was found in the hospital by Mrs. Trusnear and Mr. and Mrs. Baylies. He is considerably bruised up, but will recover and is expected home today. He had a remarkable escape from death. As the train pulled onto the draw bridge Mr. Steuart stood up in the aisle of the first car to put on his overcoat, and as he ran his arms through the sleeve of his coat, his hand struck the bell cord, and just at that instant the car went under the water, and he clutched the bell cord and found his way to the end of the car, and that is all he remembers, as he became unconscious. He supposes that he was washed from the end of the car and came to the surface, and rescued by somebody and the water rolled out of him. He did not see Mrs. Steuart and his adopted son, as the car was dark as midnight. Mrs. Steuart and the little boy were found outside of the car that was wrecked and buried in the debris. The bodies were brought here today."

The first modern press releases were created by Ivy Lee. Lee's agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Ivy Lee and the company collaborated to issue the first press release directly to journalists, before other versions of the story, or suppositions, could be spread among them and reported. He used a press release, in addition to inviting journalists and photographers to the scene as a means of fostering open communication with the media.

Some of the passengers made valiant efforts to save others. One such hero was a young man from Woodbury, NJ, William Edwards, who had just had his 26th birthday on Oct 12. He and his fiance, Ida Dubell of Florence, NJ, were to be married the next week. They were taking a day trip to Atlantic City. His fiance had already had one rail mishap that day as the trolley she rode to reach the train derailed. The screenshot below tells the story of the rest of her day. People were clawing and fighting for a way out the cars. The cars tipped as they went off and people must have been thrown to the lower end when the cars hit bottom. These early cars had steel chassis but wooden bodies. The force of the impact would have wracked the frames and jammed windows.

The motorman driving the train died at his post during the crash. A postcard with his image was created. He was due to go off work in Millville, NJ but asked to be allowed to work all the way to Atlantic City so that he could spend the rest of Sunday afternoon at his Atlantic City home with his wife and children.

This link goes to a very short summary of the problem that caused the wreck.

The 1906 train wreck continues to interest people. One of them, a member of findagrave.com created a virtual cemetery to list the final resting places of the people who lost their lives in the wreck. You can view that virtual cemetery by following the link below.


Mrs. Steuart and her adopted son, Steuart DeKlyne are buried in the Wenonah Cemetery along with Mr. Steuart who survived until 1934.