July 11, 1911: Cardinals spring into action to save lives following horrific train crash

In baseball, we often refer to players who come through in the clutch as heroes. In the early hours of July 11, 1911, however, the St. Louis Cardinals proved themselves true heroes, saving multiple passengers from the wreckage of a train accident that killed 14 people and injured 47 more.[1]

The Cardinals had just completed a four-game series at Philadelphia that evening and were taking the “Federal Express” of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad line to Boston, where they were slated to begin another four-game series that day against the Braves.

Occupying two Pullman sleepers, the Cardinals originally were located near the front of the train behind the locomotive and a U.S. Fishery coach carrying young trout. In the summer heat, the position created a dilemma for the Cardinals players: it was too hot to sleep with the windows closed, but if they opened them, the smell of the locomotive engine and fish filled the car.[2]

After taking the Jersey City train ferry, the Cardinals’ Pullman was moved to the end of train, though it is unclear whether this was a result of demands from Cardinals manager Roger Bresnahan or a simple mix-up as the cars were reassembled. In that day’s paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that “the baseball coaches were hitched on at the end instead of in their proper place in the train.”[3] The train’s brakesman later said the Cardinals were moved to the rear after Bresnahan complained.[4] Regardless, the change may have saved the lives of the Cardinals players and the two reporters traveling with them.[5]

According to the St. Louis Star and Times, the train was an hour behind schedule and traveling approximately 60 mph at 3:32 a.m. when it jumped the overhead crossing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and plunged 20 feet down an embankment. According to the railroad, the train should only have been traveling 15 mph.[6]

“When the heavy vestibule train of nine cars struck the switch at full speed the locomotive leaped, rocked, and swayed over the ties for nearly 150 yards and finally plunged to the street below, dragging six cars down the bank,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The coupling broke between the sixth and the seventh cars, leaving three sleepers upright on the embankment, two of them still on the rails.”

The cars containing the Cardinals were the only ones that didn’t leave the track. Rube Geyer, a 27-year-old pitcher, suffered a sprained wrist and was the only Cardinal injured in the accident.

“No sooner had the wreckage piled up in the street than the baggage car caught fire,” the Star and Times reported. “The flames threatened to spread to the sleepers, where many injured passengers were imprisoned.”[7]

Bresnahan was credited with organizing the Cardinals’ rescue efforts, which were crucial in the minutes before ambulance crews arrived. “When the crash came the old-time leadership of Bresnahan came to the fore,” the Post-Dispatch said. “There was much excitement among the younger men, but Roger’s voice went carrying high above the din, calling his men to calmness and order as though he were ordering a game.”[8]

Lee Magee, a 22-year-old infielder, said, “If ever a man lived who possessed a cooler head, I have not heard of him. We were barely picking ourselves up off the floor. He seemed to be the first to recognize an accident had occurred and our assistance might be needed. He was the first man to leave our coach and we all followed.”[9]

With some barefoot and many still dressed in their nightclothes, the Cardinals emerged from their cars and rescued at least a dozen fellow passengers. Wally Smith, a 23-year-old backup infielder, saved two infants,[10] and 20-year-old catcher Ivey Wingo and Bresnahan worked together to rescue a woman from the debris of one car as it caught fire.[11] Miller Huggins, a 5-foot-6, 140-pound second baseman who later managed both the Cardinals and Yankees, squeezed into a tight space to help pull one man from the wreckage.[12]

“We got axes from our cars and the next one and started clearing away the wreckage so we could get at the bodies of the dead and the dying,” outfielder Steve Evans said.[13]

“Many a victim of the wreck owes his life to the promptness of the St. Louis National League Baseball team,” reported The Hartford Times the following afternoon.[14] In the aftermath, the City of Bridgeport petitioned the Carnegie Commission for medals to be presented to members of the team for their quick actions.[15]

Despite the Cardinals’ efforts, the scene was horrific. The dead recovered from the wreckage were laid out on the lawn of a nearby house and local residents opened their doors to aid the injured.[16]

Among the wreckage was the burned body of the engineer, Arthur Curtis. A 1-year-old baby was discovered alive in one car after it had been separated from its mother and aunt. In another car, a Mrs. Whatonm of Philadelphia was rescued, but her child was discovered dead beneath her. The Star and Times reported that two more babies were killed.[17]

George S. Roberts, whom the Star and Times identified as a lieutenant of the U.S. Army and whom the Post-Dispatch said was a sergeant in the Coast Guard, lost both his wife and infant son in the crash.[18] [19]

“The cars that had fallen to the street were piled up like a monster kindling pile,” center fielder Rebel Oakes said. “Men, women, and children were sticking out of the debris. Among the passengers was a man who was returning from the funeral of his sister. He was accompanied by his wife and two children. Only himself and one of the children escaped. It was pitiful to hear him crying aloud for his wife and child as he dashed about the wreck.”[20]

Afterwards, Bresnahan sent a telegram to the Post-Dispatch saying: Every car on train demolished except our two Pullmans in rear. All my men safe. We called off game with Boston because we lost our baggage and had no uniforms to play in.[21] There was no mention of his or his team’s heroics.

Incredibly, though their July 11 game against the Braves was postponed, it was rescheduled as a double-header the following day. As their own uniforms were destroyed in the wreck, the Cardinals played in Boston’s road uniforms with old-English B’s on their left sleeves. Word of the Cardinals’ life-saving efforts had spread, and the Boston crowd gave Bresnahan a warm cheer when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat.[22]

The Cardinals won the first game 13-6 before the second ended in a 6-6 tie after 10 innings.


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[1] Tom Shieber, “Tracks of Cardinals Heroes,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover/tracks-of-cardinals-heroes.

[2] Tom Shieber, “Tracks of Cardinals Heroes,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover/tracks-of-cardinals-heroes.

[3] “Cardinals Escape Due To Error,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1911.

[4] Dom Amore, “Heroes Off The Field: In 1911, St. Louis Cardinals Became First Responders In Bridgeport Train Wreck,” Hartford Courant, July 9, 2011.

[5] Tom Shieber, “Tracks of Cardinals Heroes,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover/tracks-of-cardinals-heroes.

[6] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[7] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[8] “16 Killed, 65 Injured, When 60-Mile-An-Hour Train Leaps From Viaduct,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1911.

[9] Dom Amore, “Heroes Off The Field: In 1911, St. Louis Cardinals Became First Responders In Bridgeport Train Wreck,” Hartford Courant, July 9, 2011.

[10] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[11] “16 Killed, 65 Injured, When 60-Mile-An-Hour Train Leaps From Viaduct,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1911.

[12] Dom Amore, “Heroes Off The Field: In 1911, St. Louis Cardinals Became First Responders In Bridgeport Train Wreck,” Hartford Courant, July 9, 2011.

[13] Dom Amore, “Heroes Off The Field: In 1911, St. Louis Cardinals Became First Responders In Bridgeport Train Wreck,” Hartford Courant, July 9, 2011.

[14] Dom Amore, “Heroes Off The Field: In 1911, St. Louis Cardinals Became First Responders In Bridgeport Train Wreck,” Hartford Courant, July 9, 2011.

[15] Jason Pickney, “Bridgeport Mayor Asks Carnegie Medals For Cardinal Heroes,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 12, 1911.

[16] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[17] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[18] “Cardinals Heroes in Wreck In Which 13 Meet Death,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 11, 1911.

[19] “16 Killed, 65 Injured, When 60-Mile-An-Hour Train Leaps From Viaduct,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1911.

[20] Tom Shieber, “Tracks of Cardinals Heroes,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover/tracks-of-cardinals-heroes.

[21] “All Cardinal Players Safe Roger Bresnahan Wires,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1911.

[22] Tom Shieber, “Tracks of Cardinals Heroes,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover/tracks-of-cardinals-heroes.

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