The June 6th, 1877 edition of the Frederick Examiner newspaper includes an advertisement announcing summertime railroad excursions provided by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Destinations naturally included Washington, DC and Baltimore but also included places such as Hagerstown and Winchester. Special jaunts for history enthusiasts included Harpers Ferry and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The incentive here was to promote the daily treks with the incentive to attract large groups to ride the “iron horse”—the bigger the better, with patrons garnering a modest discount in fare.
It’s often said that “the early bird gets the worm,” and this was certainly the case with the B&O’s excursions that particular summer. What nobody knew was the fact that the railroad would be coming to a screeching halt over a month later in mid-July. This was due to a work stoppage by employees coupled with violence, part of an unprecedented labor dispute centered at the railroad’s home base in Baltimore. This was preceded by one in nearby Martinsburg, West Virginia a few days before (July 14th, 1877). At that time, Martinsburg was the site of the B&O’s railroad “classification yard” which was used for switching cars to different lines. As an aside, the railroad would relocate its yard from Martinsburg to Brunswick in 1890.
The unfortunate activity at Baltimore and Martinsburg was clearly associated with the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, during which widespread civil unrest spread nationwide following the global depression and economic downturns of the mid-1870s. Strikes broke out along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on July 16th, the same day that 10% wage reductions for employees were scheduled. This was the third such salary cut employees had experienced within the year.
Violence erupted in Baltimore on July 20th, with police and soldiers of the Maryland National Guard clashing with crowds of thousands gathered throughout the city. In response, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered federal troops to Baltimore, local officials recruited 500 additional police, and two new National Guard regiments were formed. Peace would be restored on July 22nd, but not after a dozen people were killed, 150 injured, and many more arrested.
Negotiations between strikers and the B&O were unsuccessful, and most strikers quit rather than return to work at the newly reduced wages. Thanks to an influx of immigrants readily at hand, the company easily found enough workers to replace the strikers, and under the protection of the military and police, traffic resumed on July 29th. The company promised minor concessions at the time, and eventually enacted select reforms later that year.
“If only” is an expression used just as much as “the early bird gets the worm.” In our context here, I’d like to bring in “the early bird” reference to say that those who acted before the rail strike got to experience the excursion opportunity and discounted fares. However, I have to come back to “if only,” as in “If only the B&O Strike would have happened just one month and a few days earlier.”
Excursion fever was alive and well in Frederick, Maryland on Tuesday, the 12th of June as nearly 600 folks, from all over Frederick County, were heading to Mount Vernon. Among those assembled was a small delegation headed by Charles H. Keefer, publisher of the Frederick Examiner newspaper. Mr. Keefer was also serving as current secretary for the Frederick Agricultural Society, and chairman of a committee who were traveling to Washington for the sole purpose of delivering an invitation to President Hayes to attend the upcoming Great Frederick Fair scheduled for the upcoming October.
The lead cars of the excursion train derailed, including but thankfully those toward the rear did not. Unscathed passengers in the back of the train came to the immediate aid of their unfortunate brethren. A day that started with such joy and frivolity, now had turned into a scene of tragic proportions.
Five Fredericktonians lost their life that day, including Charles H. Keefer of the Frederick Examiner. Numerous others were injured, some almost fatally. You can imagine the media attention this accident received as Mr. Keefer’s newspaper included a reporter who was among the passengers that survived that day. Stories filled the Examiner’s columns in the ensuing weeks of June. As it was a weekly offering, published on Wednesdays, the suddenness of Keefer’s demise left the staff in shock, barely able to collect thoughts to announce news of the disaster, along with the death of their colleague and leader on June 13th, 1877.
I now will turn things over to the Frederick Examiner and its staff—bonafide eyewitnesses to history. I surmise that Charles E. Knauff provided the editorial, as he was Mr. Keefer's partner in the newspaper and printing business.
Now with a week under their belt, Editor Knauff and staff had the opportunity to share with readers the particulars of the train accident. These articles appeared in the June 20th edition of the Examiner.
The Examiner of June 20th, 1877 also included a pointed editorial on who was to blame for this tragedy. A Coroner's Inquest would be launched, using victim Eugene Dixon as the pivot point. An update was also given on Col. Charles E. Trail. the most revered Frederick citizen aboard the train. Col. Trail narrowly escaped "the jaws of death."
In that June 20th edition, The Examiner gave a poignant report of the scene at Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery on Wednesday, June 13th, the day following the wreck at Point of Rocks. Beginning with Dorsey Walker at 1:00pm, the garden burying ground hosted successive funerals for all five victims. The last ended at 7:30pm. The paper would also include obituaries for each.
The June 27th Examiner brought with it news of the Coroner's Inquest case, and an update status on a few of the badly injured from the wreck . Thankfully, no further fatalities occurred, possibly adding to the number of residents calling Mount Olivet Cemetery home. However, in due time, some of these individuals would join their colleagues originally lost on June 12th, 1877. These would include five others who could have easily died in the wreck: Col. Charles E. Trail, Enoch Lewis Green, Martin Luther Knodle, Isaac H. Ely and John Henry Brashears.
An article found in the Frederick News on June 12th, 1884 marked the seventh anniversary of the accident, and claimed that Knodle and Brashears had since died, with their early deaths being indirectly tied to injuries suffered on that fateful day at Point of Rocks.
Charles E. Knauff would continue operating the Frederick Examiner newspaper long after the death of partner, and friend, Charles H. Keefer. He would contribute writings up to his death in 1915. Knauff would be buried as well in Mount Olivet, however his name never made the headstone erected at the time of his wife Mary's death in 1900. Ironic that a man who devoted his life to print, would have his "by-line" omitted.