Train Wreck

train-wreckThis looks to be the aftermath of a derailment that took place somewhere near where John B. Capewell used to reside. Something as unique and exciting as a train wreck was not going to escape our photographer’s lens! Sadly, there is only the one negative of this event, but Capewell took advantage of his vantage atop a train car and made this terrific exposure.

train-wreck-detail-1With cars strewn everywhere, it’s hard to tell what happened, but my guess is that the train derailed. There are some box and passenger cars. The train on the right looks to be a recovery unit pushing a steam-powered crane that is trying to lift the ruined engine out of the way.

westville-bgNote the ladies with their parasols among the onlookers. This was certainly something they didn’t see every day.

The above portion is from the upper left of the negative. This may be Westville, New Jersey where Capewell lived with his family. Westville has train tracks running through it, and the houses in the background look like the large frame houses in the other photographs in the series. If not Westville, it’s probably some place in Gloucester County. I’m hoping somebody recognizes the train station. Sadly, I can’t make out any of the type.

coal-hopperIt reads Pennsylvania on the coal hopper of the recovery engine.

twisted-railsThere looks to be some seriously bent rails among the debris.

It’s hard to tell when this all took place, but judging from the other photos in the series and the steam locomotive, it is certainly very early in the 20th century. I’ll leave it to my more knowledgeable readers to school me on the details.


About The Capewell Glass Negative Collection

The Capewell Glass Negative collection is a series of about 200 5-inch by 7-inch glass negatives shot early in the 20th Century by John Batt Capewell (1878-1951) of Westville, New Jersey. John passed the negatives down to his son Henry who left them in his wife’s possession upon his passing. Henry’s widow didn’t know what to do with them and didn’t particularly want them so she offered them to my Dad who couldn’t turn down anything. Ultimately I wound up with them and thought I would one day have photographic prints struck from them. That didn’t happen, but I came up with the digital workaround of placing the negatives on a lightbox and rephotographing them with a digital camera. The “processing” was then done on a computer with image editing software. Many of these pictures have not been seen in a century, and I’m proud to be presenting them today.

At first, I did not know who the people were in the photographs. I have a box of ephemera that accompanied the negatives and snagged a few clues from that as far as the Capewell name. I did some research on the internet and had a few false starts and wrong turns, but the readers of these posts have provided a remarkable amount of research and detail. I’m amazed at what people have turned up sifting through public records and such!

This story continues to evolve. Every Thursday, I will post a Capewell picture or two. If you recognize a person or place in one of the shots or just want to drop a line, feel free to comment!

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5 Responses to Train Wreck

  1. Dan Love says:

    Nice detail.

  2. Tina says:

    I love everything about this shot – where he positioned his camera, the composition, the movement of the people in the foreground, and the lucky break of capturing a profile view of the kid sitting on top of the train car.

  3. Jerseyman says:

    This wonderful photograph shows the aftermath of the West Jersey & Seashore’s 9:00 a.m. Cape May Express derailment at Woodbury, New Jersey, on 5 August 1904 after the train ran through an open switch. Despite the devastation, no one died and only 11 people suffered injuries. The train was traveling at 60 m.p.h. when it ran a red stop signal and entered the siding. The locomotive derailed and overturned and the nine-car train piled up against the steam engine. The three heavily-laden baggage cars took the brunt of the inertia in the sudden stop, which prevented loss of life and major bodily injuries. Passengers in the cars of a northbound train stopped on an adjacent track miraculously escaped injury when large steel shrapnel came flying through the coach windows by the force of the crash.

    For a newspaper account of the wreck, see this site:

    Best regards,

  4. Joe_Williams says:

    Thanks, Jerseyman! I thought you would come through with a location, but I never imagined you would give us the wonderful specifics!!! Incredible!

  5. Tina says:

    Thanks for the information – this is amazing!!! I tried to research this a while back and failed miserably. One of the places I checked was Wikipedia’s List of rail accidents (1900–1929) – and this particular wreck isn’t listed there.

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