The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed America’s Railroads

Charity Vogel. Cornell Univ., $26.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-8014-4908-6
On the afternoon of December 18, 1867, as the Buffalo and Erie Railroad’s New York Express passenger train hurtled eastward carrying several hundred holiday passengers, it derailed just east of Angola, N.Y., pitching two cars off a truss bridge into Big Sister Creek. In workmanlike and often gruesome detail, Vogel, a staff reporter at the Buffalo News, recreates the disaster—branded in America’s imagination as “the Horror”—not only by retelling the moment-by-moment story of that tragic day, but also by reporting on the lives of the passengers, rail workers, and rescuers. We meet Dr. Romaine J. Curtiss, Angola’s new doctor, who had practiced triage on the decks of an army hospital ship during the Civil War and brought those skills to helping the injured after the crash; the infant Minnie Fisher, whose miraculous survival offered a glimmer of hope on that dark day; and plenty of brave Angolans who rushed to help. Vogel also zooms out to consider how the wreck illuminated common American apprehensions and fears, of both the long road toward Reconstruction and the unpredictability of new technologies. Vogel’s subject is an interesting one, but perhaps unworthy of a book-length work—tedious minutiae dampen the power of the narrative. Photos and illus. (Sept. 10)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
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