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Nashville train crash

100 years later: Remembering 101 people killed in deadliest American train wreck

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By SAMANTHA SINGER, FOX 17 News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - Monday, July 9, 2018, marked exactly 100 years since the deadliest train wreck in American history.

Two passenger trains crashed head-on at full speed, killing 101 people and injuring more than 200.

The train wreck happened near the corner of White Bridge and Harding pikes in Belle Meade, Tennessee.

July 9, 1918, was the deadliest day in American railroad history and a brutal part of West Nashville history.

“When they hit, it was like two bulls running together. It knocked the two engines off,” Nashville attorney and historian Doug Jones said.

The Nashville Public Library provided Fox 17 News with audio from a 1983 interview with a man who lived half a mile from the wreck in 1918. He was only a child at that time.

“I remember hearing a crash and some of the most dreadful screams you ever heard in your life,” Mr. Boyle said in a1983 interview about the 1918 train wreck. "That screaming lasted practically all night long because it took, I guess, fully 12 hours to get all of it cleaned up. It was hard for us to go to sleep.”

One train was coming in from Memphis while the other had just left Nashville’s Union Station. They hit each other at a horseshoe bend in the tracks called Dutchman’s Curve.

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“So, they were literally going at 60 miles an hour, both trains,” Nashville attorney and historian David Ewing said. “They didn't even see each other. They didn't even have time to brake.”

Historians said several of the people killed were never identified because they had been too badly burned or mangled.

“There were cornfields on both sides of the tracks and it took them a long time going through there, picking up body pieces,” Jones said. “Words really don't describe it.”

Nashville native John Nichols’ great uncle died in the train wreck. Nichols said he heard stories about the wreck from his grandmother, whom he spent a lot of time with as a child.

“One day, she opened a trunk at the foot of her bed and in it was a newspaper clipping of the wreck and she explained to me that her brother had passed away in that wreck,” Nichols said.

Nichols’ grandmother’s older brother, Johnnie Gordan, worked as a railway laborer. Their family lived in Colesburg, Tennessee, just outside Dickson.

Nichols said his great uncle, Gordan, was only 21 when he died on the train. Gordan’s younger sister, Nichols’ grandmother, was only 9 or 10 when her brother died.

“She always looked at him as a big brother and everything, so it was tragic for her,” Nichols said. “And I think she felt more tragedy for her parents losing a son than for herself.”

Now, 100 years later, historians and relatives of the people killed gathered Monday morning for a ceremony, reading the names of the 101 killed and placing flowers above the train tracks.

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