Skip to main content

Terra Cotta Wreck: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1906, a train wreck in Washington, D.C. killed 53 people. This guide provides access to materials related to the “Terra Cotta Wreck” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"43 dead, 80 injured in Terra Cotta Wreck." December 31, 1906. The Washington Times (Washington, DC), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

On the foggy evening of December 30, 1906, a roaring steam locomotive crashes at full-speed into the back of three, flimsy, wooden passenger cars in the Terra Cotta neighborhood of Washington, D.C., sending bodies and debris flying for a quarter mile along the Baltimore & Ohio tracks, killing 53 people. As the huge locomotive lay hissing on its side, screams of agony pervaded the area as priests from the nearby Brookland Seminary administered last rites to the dead and doctors attended to the injured. It was the most disastrous train wreck in Washington, D.C. history, leading to the trial of several crew members. The crew members were ultimately acquitted, but wooden passenger cars would later be discontinued due to accidents such as the train wreck in Washington, D.C. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

December 30, 1906 A locomotive crashes into wooden passenger cars on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, killing 53 people and injuring over 70.
January 2, 1907 An investigation to determine the cause of the wreck begins before a coroner's jury.
January 9, 1907 Coroner’s jury recommends that the engineer, conductor, and several operators be arrested.
December 11, 1907 The engineer, conductor, brakeman and a fireman go on trial for manslaughter.
December 23, 1907 All four men are acquitted due to a lack of evidence.