Few people living today remember the 1920s – let alone the specifics of travel during the era. Luckily, New England‘s commitment to preserving its history makes it relatively easy to envision the region as it appeared in decades past. This becomes obvious during any ride through many of its cities. The YouTube video below shows the Boston streetscape as it appeared in the 1920’s. In watching it, you will see many familiar sights, and some sights, period cars and fashions, that have faded with the passage of time.
Like today, travel on the roads and rails of the 1920s carried its risks. Auto and train accidents occurred and, at many times, were more serious than today’s accidents, given the era’s lack of safety equipment and regulations to minimize accidents and their impacts.
At one o’clock during the afternoon of November 19, 1928, two passenger trains of the Boston & Maine railroad crashed head-on just beneath the Hale Street bridge. Fifteen were taken to local emergency rooms at St. John’s, Lowell General, and the Lowell Corporation hospitals in ambulances, private cars, and trucks.
Three cars of the two trains derailed and overturned. Train 10, which was travelling southbound to Boston from Woodsville, NH, had received a clear signal to enter the northbound track. Moments later, as it was passing through the crossover and back onto its southbound track, a northbound express, Train 9, which had left Boston to travel to Woodsville struck the lead car on the 10 train. The impact was so great, the southbound train overturned and derailed.
By the next day, one man had died. John J. Hart, a Boston & Maine brakeman on the southbound train, died on the night of the accident at Lowell General after a blood transfusion had failed to save him. A Stoneham resident and a 25-year employee of the railroad, he left a wife, and two children. Another brakeman on the same train, Frederick H. Lucas, of 786 Merrimack Street, was in serious condition. He survived, along with 10 others who were also seriously hurt.
B&M officials ultimately concluded that the train accident was a result of the failure of the engineer of the north-bound train to control his speed and obey a block signal that had been set against his train.
Like today, travel in the past carried its perils and was sometimes visited by tragedy. Unlike today, many of the regulations and laws that now prevent accidents, or at least mitigate their effects when they occur, did not yet exist. Train accidents, like the Lowell accident exhibited in this post, occurred frequently, and sometimes resulted in fatalities that affected the lives of our ancestors.