2008-11-01

90 Years Ago: The Malbone Street Wreck

On November 1, 1918, the worst transit disaster in New York City history occurred just outside Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The wooden cars of the Brighton Beach line of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (B.R.T.) company left the tracks, crashing inside the tunnel beneath the busy intersection where Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue and Malbone Street met [Google map]. The Malbone Street Wreck killed nearly 100 people and injured more than 250. Criminal trials and lawsuits arising from the accident dragged on for years, contributing to the bankruptcy of the BRT. The name "Malbone Street" became associated with the disaster; it's known today as Empire Boulevard.


The BRT line followed roughly the current route of the B/Q subway lines from Coney Island to Prospect Park, and the shuttle from Prospect Park to Franklin Avenue. Conditions for the disaster were created by a number of factors. World War I, and the influenza pandemic, were still raging. A multi-year project to consolidate the BRT and then-IRT required temporary rerouting of several lines, creating a sharp turn into a tunnel beneath what is now Empire Boulevard, just north of the current Prospect Park station of the B/Q lines and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. This turn, called "Dead Man's Curve" even before the accident, is still visible from the street today.

Detail, Brooklyn's Franklin Avenue Shuttle Track Map

Finally, a strike by motormen who ran the BRT's trains caused the BRT to run its trains with inexperienced staff:
As Edward Luciano began a run as motorman on the Brooklyn Rapid Transit's (BRT) Brighton Beach line on the evening of November 1, 1918, getting home quickly and safely might well have been foremost in his mind. Luciano's career as a motorman had started earlier that very day, when the BRT pressed the twenty-three year-old dispatcher into service after company motormen went out on strike. Weakened by a recent bout with influenza and emotionally anguished by the death of one of his children from flu the week before, Luciano nonetheless complied with his employer's wishes.
...
The posted speed for the tunnel entrance was six miles per hour; witnesses estimated that Luciano's train entered the curve at over thirty. The train's first car hung precariously to the track, then derailed upon entering the tunnel. The second car slammed violently into a concrete abutment, losing its roof and one of its sides in the impact. The third car disintegrated into a tangled mass of wood and glass.
- Death Beneath the Streets, New York Underground, The American Experience, PBS
This is a photo of three of the five wooden cars of the train. You can clearly see that the top half of the second car is gone. In his review of the book, The Malbone Street Wreck, on rapidtransit.net, Paul Matus explains the image:
MalboneStreetWreck2
The Malbone Street train sits in the BRT's 36th St. Yard after salvage. The relatively minor damage to 726 [the first car in the photo] shows why most in the first car escaped serious injury. Even the window of Motorman Luciano's cab (left, front) is intact. Not so lucky were those in trailer car 80 immediately behind, with half the car sheared away. Behind 80 is motor car 725, also almost unscathed. Chillingly absent between 80 and 725 would have been car 100, the remains of which were dismantled at the scene.
The accident occurred during the evening rush hour. It was already night-time. In the closed confines of the tunnel, rescuers tried to save who they could. It was a horrific scene.
Dozens of passengers died immediately, many of them decapitated or impaled by shards of wood and glass. Others were electrocuted by the third rail, which had shut down on derailment but was turned back on by offsite monitors who attributed the shutdown to labor sabotage. [Note: The claim of death by electrocution is refuted in Cudahy's book.] Rescuers rushed to the station, to help the dazed and injured and to carry away the dead. The power failure in the tunnel posed a problem for rescuers that was partially solved when automobiles pulled up near the entrance to the station to illuminate the ghastly scene.

Worried friends and relatives came from across the city and waited outside the station for news of loved ones who frequented the Brighton Beach trains. Medical personnel used the Brooklyn Dodger's Ebbets Field as a first aid station. And Mayor John Hylan, a strong opponent of privately operated transit lines like the BRT, arrived on the scene with freshly-milled accusations of transit-interest malfeasance.
- Death Beneath the Streets
Newspapers of the day published the names and addresses of those killed and injured in the crash. From that, I created a Google Map with the names and addresses of the dead. The geographic distribution is striking. The majority of those killed were from greater Flatbush, including Prospect Lefferts Gardens, but also included victims from East Flatbush and Kensington, to the east and west, and, to the south, from Midwood, Gravesend, and Sheepshead Bay.


View Larger Map

Here's the list of dead and injured. Most of this list is presented as it was reported in the Brooklyn Standard Union on November 2, 1918, the day after the crash. I made other edits and corrections from additional sources, such as follow-up articles in the new York Times. Some information was originally printed in error, some of the injured later died, and one man originally listed as dead was found to be safe at home. Where available, the addresses link to the Google Map I created which shows the homes of the victims. Some victims also received short descriptions in the paper of the time; I added that to the descriptions of the markers.

Dead

  1. ALEXANDER, James, 647 Fenimore Street
  2. ALFARO, Peschal, 160 Robinson Street [I can't locate this street on current maps of Brooklyn. Has this been renamed to Parkside Avenue?]
  3. AMREIN, Ada, Address unkown
  4. ARENA, Mabel, 186 Lefferts Avenue
  5. BARCINO, Eugene Edward, 42 Henry Street, Flatbush [sic, this address is in Brooklyn Heights, not Flatbush]
  6. BARGIN, Etta, 1145 East 14th Street
  7. Bechtold, Emily or Elise M., 362 East 9th Street
  8. BERKOWITZ, Herman, Address unknown
  9. Borden, Helen, 445 Riverside Drive, Manhattan, or 1011 Ocean Avenue [two addresses were given for Ms. Borden]
  10. Bogen, David, 27 years old, 94 Kenmore Place [Originally listed among the dead as D. Borgen of 97 Kenmore Place]
  11. Brunswick, David, 70 years old, 847 East 10th Street
  12. BURTON, Mary, 1458 East 17th Street
  13. Calibria or Calabria, Rose, 1935 East 9th Street [Published in NY Times, 2008-09-06, five days after the accident]
  14. CLEARY, Margaret, 318 Parkville Avenue
  15. Clifford, Ethel or Louise, 485 Argyle Road
  16. COADY, Emily, 682 Argyle Beach [sic: Argyle Road]
  17. Condra, Louisa G, 23 years old, Brooklyn [No address given. Not listed originally among the dead or injured. "Louisa G. CONDRA, also killed, was born in Newark twenty-three years ago and had been a resident of Brooklyn for three years. She was secretary to the vice-president of the National City Bank in Manhattan and is survived by her mother, Marguerite, and two sisters The funeral will be held to-morrow morning with a requiem mass at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Interment will be at Newark."]
  18. COOPER, Margaret, Detroit, Mich.
  19. ENGGRAN, John W., 37 East 10th Street
  20. FLEMING, Catherine, 7 East 10th Street
  21. FITZPATRICK, Ed., Avenue H and East 17th Street
  22. FLAHAVE, James F., 277 East 38th Street
  23. Gardner (or Gardiner), Marion (Mary) Norcross, 347 Lincoln Road
  24. GILBERT, Michael, 26 years old, 1510 East 18th Street or 1819 East 13th Street [two addresses were given for Mr. Gilbert]
  25. GILFEATHER, Thomas F. 388 East 49th Street
  26. GILLEN, Harry P., 29 years old, 1539 East 13th Street or 1634 East 13th Street [two addresses were given for Mr. Gillen]
  27. GIVNAN, Thomas, 28 years old, 1601 Voorhies avenue
  28. GUIDE, Nicholas, 1505 Neck Road
  29. Hennison, Emelia, 95 Lenox Road [Listed only in association with Aline Schwaan at the same address]
  30. HOLMES, George W., 611 Westminster Road
  31. HOLTORF, Theodore, 60 years old, 984 East 18th Street
  32. HOPKINS, Lewis, 2130 Bedford Avenue
  33. JACKOWITZ, Sophie, 4301 Church Avenue
  34. JOHNSON, Mary, Address unknown
  35. KEMPF, Christina, 203 Parkside avenue
  36. KERR, David B. 132 Nassau Street, Manhattan
  37. KINSIE, Benjamin A., 79 Haven Avenue, Manhattan
  38. KIRCHOFF, Clara, 877 East Fifteenth Street
  39. LARSEN, H.W., 713 Avenue N
  40. LAWREY, Nellie, 1782 Shore Road
  41. LAWSON, T. C., 1716 Caton Avenue
  42. LEE, Fred W. 212 South Oxford Street
  43. LOMBACK, Harry 22721 77th Street [invalid street address]
  44. LOMBARD, Henry, 1016 East 18th Street or 1919 East 18th Street [two different addresses were given for Mr. Lombard, in the initial list of the dead, and in a follow-up mention]
  45. LOURING, Frank J., 1025 East 15th Street
  46. LOVE, Bessie, 90 St. Marks Place
  47. LOVELL, Aubrey, 1522 East 10th Street
  48. LYONS, Caroline, 1616 Avenue H
  49. MAIER, Joseph A. 204 Midwood Street
  50. MALAMAUD, Abraham, 602 East 16th
  51. MALONEY, Lillian, 178 Lefferts Avenue
  52. MATTOOK, Ethel, 335 East 21st Street
  53. MEEHAN, Helen, 22, 348 Eastern Parkway
  54. METZGER, Ira H., 816 East 14th Street
  55. McMILLEN, Carnette, Address unknown
  56. McCORMACK, Mrs. Grace, 1404 Cortelyou Road
  57. MUNN, Sadie, 25 Rugby road
  58. MURPHY, Grace, a school teacher, 1297 Homecrest Avenue [invalid address]
  59. NAGLE, Richard, 2124 East 24th Avenue
  60. PALMEDO, Alexander M., 439 East 19th Street
  61. Payne, Raymond, 18 years old, 1213 Avenue H
  62. Pierce, Wilbur F., 23 years old, 244 Lefferts Avenue
  63. PILKINGTON, Mrs. 214 Webster Avenue
  64. PORTER, Willis D., 721 Argyle Road [Mistakenly reported as dead, as "William Porter, Argyle Road"]
  65. PORTER, Edward Erskine, 309 Caton Avenue [Possibly 307 Caton Avenue?]
  66. PROUT, Grover T., 275 Ocean Avenue
  67. Rathe, John Charles Ferdinand (or Roth, Charles), 311 E 19th St
  68. RUBIN, M. H., 675 Flatbush Avenue
  69. RUSSO, Mamie, 485 Grand Avenue
  70. RYAN, Michael, 36 years old, 2163 Nostrand Avenue [Possibly 2162 Nostrand?]
  71. SCHWAAN, Aline, 95 Lenox Road
  72. SCUDDER, Ethel, 1221 Avenue Q
  73. SHEVIT, Syd, 224 East 26th Street
  74. SHIEDEN, John, 420 Cortelyou Road
  75. STEVENS, W. E., 150 Nassau Street, Manhattan
  76. SCHAEFER, Harold, 2804 Farragut Road
  77. Stephens, W. A., 83 Rugby Road
  78. STERN, Adolph, 141 Central Avenue
  79. SULLIVAN, Margaret, 19, 2745 Bedford Avenue
  80. TEN BROUCK (or Broeck), Floyd, 46 years old, 1419 Avenue G (Glenwood Road, today)
  81. THORN, C.C. 2023 Caton Avenue
  82. TIETJEN, Johann W., 420 Cortelyou Road
  83. TOLZE, Genaro, 2439 East 14th Street
  84. TOWNSON, T.G., 1716 Caton Avenue
  85. VINCENZO, Louis A. 493 Gravesend Avenue [Published in the NY Times, 2008-09-06, five days after the accident. I can't locate this street. Is this know today as Gravesend Neck Road?)
  86. VINEBERG, Morris, 1706 Bath Avenue
  87. WALKER, Marion, 1670 East 10th Street
  88. WEED, H.E., Address unknown
  89. WATTS, Hazel, 48 East 22nd Street
  90. WALSH, Genevieve, 4301 Church Avenue
  91. WOELFER, Charlotte, 738 East 21st Street

Injured


AYER, Oscar, 600 East 16th Street
AMREIN, Kurt, 634 West 135th Street, Manhattan
ANTONELLO, Rosario, 1419 Lincoln Road

BAIRD, Loraine, 2542 East 5th Street
BANELSON, Vera, 170 Coleridge Street
BARRETT, Susan, 1550 East 12th Street
BOOM, Martin P., 635 Flatbush Avenue
BRAULT Zephrin, 107 Martense Street
BROSER, Mrs. Wm., 2641 East 21st Street

CALABRIA, Rose, 1935 East 9th Street [or Calibria, she died 4 days later]
Castellani, Marie, 2764 Haring Street, Sheepshead Bay
CLEARY, Mary, 318 Parkville Avenue
CLINCHY, Susan, 1704 Kings Highway
CORCOCILLO, Joseph, 1089 East 39th Street
COSTELAN, Marie, 24 Harrett Street

DRENNAN, Margaret, 1911 Homecrest Avenue

(No. listings for "E")

F.

FELICIA, Samuel, 38 Darby Street
FENNON, Edith, 826 Avenue P
Fitzpatrick, Edward N. [No address available. Mr. Fitzpatrick was not originally listed among the injured. He was awarded $35,000 in 1920 from injuries received in the crash. Reference: New York Times, 1920-01-08]
FUCHS, Pauline, 2902 West 17th Street
FULLER, Elizabeth, 364 East 18th Street

G.

GOWARD, Harold, 234 Lefferts Avenue
GIILERDI, Sylvia, 2617 Jerome Avenue
GUTHRIE, James, 800 East 15th Street

H.

HARLEY, Helen, Crown Street
HARRIS, Leonore, 62 Marlboro Road
HARRIS, Gertrude, 810 Avenue U
HARM, George, 2801 East 7th Street
HAYES, Nora, 287 East 17th Street
HALL, Martha, 2715 East 23d Street

(No listings for "I")

J.

JUDD, Francis, Manhattan Beach

(No listings for "K")

L.

LARSON, Lillian, 713 Avenue M
LEE, Henry A. 971 Utica Avenue
LERNER, Nathan, 15 President Street
LEES, Loretta, 619 East 4th Street
LEES, Mary, 619 East 4th Street

M.

MITCHELL, Matilda, 3456 East 15th Street
MURPHY, Veronica, 1922 Homecrest Avenue
McGARRY, John, 120 Avenue C
MANDER, Walter, 840 Flatbush Avenue
MARTENSE, Gary, 1501 Avenue U
MULE, Ernest, 2421 East 18th Street
MUSSON, Silas, 402 Ocean Avenue
MELLOW, William, 568 East 18th Street
MESSIER, Josephine, 2163 Coney Island Avenue

(No listings for "N" and "O")

P.

PIERCE, Mrs. Kate, 1011 Ocean Avenue
PITTS, Frank G. 632 East 16th Street
POCHICHIE, Louis, 354 Prospect Place

(No listings for "Q")

R.

ROCHES, Mary, 2647 East 18th Street
REILLY, Alfred, 153 Martense Street

S.

SCHMITT, Geo. W., 856 Est 5th Street
SEYMANN, Harry, 104 Woodruff Avenue
SCHUBERT, Arthur, 100 Webster Avenue
STOBEI, Rev. Joseph, 225 Emmons Avenue
SULLIVAN, Loretta, 437 East 15th Street

(No listings for "T" and "U")

V.

VAN ARSDALE, Betty, 3122 Mermaid Avenue



[bit.ly]

Related content

Malbone Street Wreck, Google Map

Links

Malbone Street Wreck, Wikipedia
Death Beneath the Streets, New York Underground, The American Experience, PBS

The Malbone Street Wreck, by Brian Cudahy [I've got this back-ordered from Amazon]
Review of the book by Paul Matus on rapidtransit.net

Franklin Shuttle, Kevin Walsh, Forgotten New York
BMT Franklin Avenue Line, Wikipedia
Lanes of Mid-Brooklyn, Kevin Walsh, Forgotten New York

Eve of Destruction, 1918: The Malbone Street Horror and Day of the Dead, A Year in the Park

Brooklyn Ron

Malbone Street Wreck, nycsubway.org, transcription of the article published in the New York Times on November 2nd, 1918
List of dead and injured, Brooklyn Standard Union
Alternative Map

7 comments:

Brenda from Flatbush said...

What a magnificent tribute, Xris! Truly a gift to our collective memory.

amarilla said...

This is a great tribute. Thanks for posting it - I had no idea.

Angel said...

My grandfather's sister Maime Russo died in this accident. I discovered this today when I heard a news story on NY1 about the anniversary of the accident. I remembered that my mother would tell us the story about how her aunt and two male cousins were decapitated in a train accident in Brooklyn before mom was born. My grandfather was a teenager when it happened and Maime was on her way home to celebrate a brothers birthday. Unfortunately no one knew where, or how it happened. My search led me to your website which also included the list of the dead. Thank you for solving this family mystery.

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Angel: Glad this helped.

Jim said...

Regarding Gravesend Avenue, the home of victim #85, Louis Vicenzo: Gravesend Avenue is the old name for the present McDonald Avenue.

mholtorf said...

#31 is HOLTORF, Theodore, my great grandfather. I was about 9 or 10 years old when my Nana told me how her husband, Gerard Holtorf heard about the wreck and knew his father would have been on the train home. He searched the crash site and recognized his shoes from underneath the blanket. He pulled a large shard of glass from his neck. My grandfather, Gerard, was ill for many years after with stomach ulcers.That was all I ever heard of the accident. There were no clipping in the family albums and no one ever again mentioned it. My grandmother died when I was 10 and I never asked her about it again. My sons middle name is Theodore.

Angel Negron said...

While brousing on the internet a few years ago, I found a newspaper article explaing the entire detail of the incident in 1908. It said that Edward Luciano fell behind on his scheduled route after missing a switch, which then, switches were operated manually and not automatically. After throwing the train in reverse to correct his course, he started to speed and wrecked the train. He disembarked the train, (possibly in shock) left the scene, and went home on foot. Later, the police found him there and arrested him. I think I also read that Luciano was acquited of the crime. Does anybody know how Luciano lived the rest of his life i the aftermath of such a terrible evening?

Angel Negron, Staten Island