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Have you heard the one about a train, a schooner, and a drawbridge?

Locomotive poised above the Laurel River after crashing through a drawbridge and plunged into the river, 1904, Laurel, Delaware. Photograph by Albert H. Waller.

What’s going on here? Its definitely not your typical maritime photograph.

It’s a curious story. I came across the photograph quite by accident. It was filed under Golden Gate. On the morning of June 20, 1904, the schooner Golden Gate just happened to be passing under the drawbridge at Laurel, Delaware, when this locomotive broke through and plunged 50 feet into the Laurel River.

The photograph above was actually taken some time later when workers were able to remove the train. Below is the photograph taken just after the disaster. The Golden Gate is barely visible.

Schooner Golden Gate barely visible underneath locomotive, Laurel Delaware, 1904. Photograph: Albert H. Waller.

The extended headline of the Evening Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, reads: “Train In River, Engineer Dead”

The story continues, “It was [Engineer Fred] Courtney’s first trip and he was not familiar with the road. When he saw the signal he made every effort to stop his train, but on account of the grade and the short distance the signal was from the bridge, it was impossible. He died at his post.”

By the way, the crew on board Golden Gate saw the train coming and jumped out of the vessel before the crash.

These photographs are in our Collection because of the identified schooner. Sometimes the only documentation we have on a vessel is after an accident! Stories such as this from our Collection continue to surprise and educate me.

About the photographs: Albert H. Waller opened his photography business in Sussex County, Delaware in 1897. He was there to document this event.
The Mariners’ Museum P0001.011-01–PK4505, P0001.011-01–PK4506.

“Train in River, Engineer Dead,” The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), 20 Jun 1904, Mon, Page 1 Accessed Sept. 22, 2020.

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