Three died in 1903 Christmas wreck
by Betty Wertz
The Morgan Messenger reported:
A gloom was cast over this town and neighborhood all through the holidays by the terrible accident on the B&O Railroad, on the night of December 23.
Three young men of this vicinity, G.W.Biser, Charles W. Wagoner of Berkeley Springs and John W. Martin of Hancock, died in the wreck.
The men were in a telegraph gang, which is in charge of Mack Hovermale. They were on their way home for the holidays and all had wives and young children.
The news of the accident first reached the area on the morning of December 24 and filled many hearts with anxiety and fear.
Rather than Christmas bells ringing from area churches the death toll bells sounded over the area.
The Hagerstown Daily Mail reported the train left Pittsburgh running a few minutes late and at a high rate of speed when it struck timber dropped by an earlier train.
Passengers were thrown from their seats by the lightning like application of the air brakes. It carried an estimated 150 passengers and half were injured or dead.
The train ploughed along for a considerable distance before plunging down an embankment and into the edge of the Youghiogheny River.
The engine caught fire and able-bodied men used water from the river trying to extinguish the fire.
Many were pinned beneath the wreckage and the screams and cries rent the air. So terrible was the force of the wreck that nearly every passenger suffered a moment of unconsciousness. A conductor was mashed to a pulp in the cab.
Just Missed Wreck
Carroll Foster and Joshua Dellinger, formerly of Williamsport, arrived on the P. V. train coming directly from the scene. Both said the wreck was really worse that the accounts published in the papers.
As if by a miracle, both men missed the ill-fated train because they were just a few minutes late.
One man said he lifted seven men out. Many were soaked with blood. In the piles of debris were toys, telling the pathetic tale of Christmas shopping that came to such a pitiful end.
John W. Martin
John W, Martin’s wife in Hancock received three telegrams on Thursday morning. The first at 6:30 stating Martin was killed, the second at 8:30 stating he was only injured, the third at 10:06 that his body was in the morgue at Connellsville.
Martin was riding in the smoking car. His face was cut so badly as to be unrecognizable. He died soon after being removed to the hospital.
As he was being loaded in the ambulance, he asked if there was anyone from Hancock. Mr. Dillinger bore Martin’s message to his wife telling her his last thoughts were of her and that he had always been true.
Martin’s body arrived later that night and on Christmas afternoon, the remains of the 35-year-old man were taken to the Hancock St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
Rector J.E Ewell was in charge of the service. Burial was in Greenway Cemetery in Berkeley Springs.
Another Hancock man who is supposed to have been on the ill-fated train is Edgar Henry, but his name does not appear among the killed or wounded. His friends believe he escaped the wreck.
The Morgan Messenger reported the burials of Biser and Wagoner in its December 31, 1903 issue.
George Washington Biser
On Saturday, December 26 Rev. George P. Hott, conducted Biser’s funeral in the United Brethren Church. He was 22 years of age. Burial was in Greenway Cemetery. Biser was a nephew of G.W Biser, the Berkeley Springs merchant for which Biser Street is named.
Charles W. Wagoner
The members of Lodge No. 52 and Berkeley Springs Council took care of the burial of Charles W. Wagoner from the Methodist Church.
Odd Fellows from Hancock and Warfordsburg attended. The large church was packed with people who came to pay the last tribute to Wagoner. Rev. Duckwall, assisted by Rev. Hott, conducted the service. Burial was in Greenway Cemetery.
Instead of rejoicing during the Christmas Season, residents were sad and downcast and had no heart to indulge in festivities. It was with heavy hearts that two small towns came together bearing one another’s burdens during this time of bereavement.
“We tender their families our sympathy and command them to our Heavenly Father who can bind up the broken hearted and comfort those who mourn,” wrote S.S. Buzzerd, founder of The Morgan Messenger.