Bullitt County History

1899 Train Wreck at Gap in Knob

A freight train ran into the back coach of a passenger train at Gap in Knob on 23 Dec 1899. The next day The Courier-Journal [24 Dec 1899, pages 1, 4] reported on the accident which injured a number of people and killed one. We have transcribed the article below.

Together at Gap-In-the-Knobs.
Wreck on the L. and N.
Mrs. J. M. Carrothers, of Louisville, Killed.
Fifteen Others Injured.
Freight Train No. 13 Runs into the Springfield Accommodation.
Some Narrow Escapes

Mrs. J. M. Carothers, Louisville

Miss Susie Simpson, Bardstown, face cut and leg injured.
Mr. McClain, Bardstown, face cut and leg injured.
John M. Sharp, broker, Louisville, cut about arms.
Joseph Thompson, 2223 Garland Avenue, Louisville, arm and hand bad, lacerated.
About a dozen others, names unknown.

One killed and fifteen injured is the woeful record of a hind-end collision between the Springfield accommodation - a Christmas train - and a freight train at Gap-in-the-Knobs, seventeen miles from Louisville, on the Louisville and Nashville railroad, shortly after 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon. Mrs. J. M. Carothers, wife of a retail shoe dealer of Louisville, was killed almost instantly, her body having been caught and crushed between the smashed rear end of the last coach and the seat immediately in front of the one she was occupying. It was necessary to cut out her body, so tightly was it wedged. Miss Susie Simpson, who occupied the seat with her, was slightly injured. About twelve or thirteen others were injured, but it is said not seriously.

The passenger train is known to the L. and N. telegraph operators as No. 41, and to the public as the Springfield accommodation. It left Louisville from the Tenth Street station at 4:20 o'clock yesterday afternoon with a baggage car and three coaches. It was an unusually large train, made necessary by the heavy Christmas travel, and when it pulled out of the station every coach was packed to its capacity. Not only was every seat occupied, but the aisles will filled with passengers standing. All of them were laden with Christmas presents. Among the passengers were many who came to Louisville from Springfield and Bardstown and smaller places lying between those towns and Louisville to do their Christmas shopping. The rest of the passengers were residents of Louisville who were going to spend Christmas with relatives and friends.

In the last seat was Mr. T.C. Coleman, an old gentleman who lives at Gap-in-the-Knobs. The train was to stop there to allow Mr. Coleman to get off. Before the train stopped he spoke to Mrs. Carothers and Miss Simpson, who had been compelled to stand up, telling them they might have his seat. The young women thanked him for the courtesy and Mrs. Carothers took her seat first, moving over to the window, making room for Miss Simpson. Both young women were on their way to Bardstown, Mrs. Carothers to spend Christmas with her relatives and with her husband's family. Her father-in-law, Mr. A. R. Carothers, Assistant Custodian of the Customhouse, was also on the train, but in another part of the coach, the two having been separated by the crush of passengers. Mr. J. M. Carothers, her husband, had remained in Louisville to look after the last night's Christmas business, intending to go on to Bardstown this morning. Miss Simpson had been visiting her uncle, Dr. Frank C. Simpson, 306 West St. Catherine street, and was on her way to her home in Bardstown to spend Christmas with her parents.

The Crash Comes

When the train stopped at Gap-in-the-Knobs, it was some minutes late because of the number of passengers who had got off since leaving Louisville, and because they were delayed in disembarking by the unusual number of parcels which each had. The two young women had just had themselves comfortably settled and were chatting pleasantly in the unusually gay crowd of passengers, where there was the shriek of a whistle, the crash of splintering wood and breaking glass, as the engine of freight train No. 13, bound out of Louisville for Nashville, hurled itself against the coach.

Miss Simpson, who sat on the outside edge of the last seat, was hurled by the impact across the aisle and against the seat opposite. Mrs. Carothers was caught beyond recovery, the rear panels of the coach, splintered and jagged by the force of the flying freight train, catching her up and hurling her against the seat in front, were she was bound as in a vice. Death came instantly.

Crowd Panic-stricken.

At the same instant that the crash came, the crowded passengers were thrown into a panic.

Those who were standing were thrown to the floor by the force of the collision. Those who were in their seats were forced to their knees. All except one. A Mr. McClain, of Bardstown, who was standing, declares that the force of the blow delivered by the locomotive was so great that he was hurled through one of the windows with a crash and landed in a heap on the parallel tracks near by, where he lay unconscious for some minutes. When he came to himself he found his face and hands covered with blood and one of his legs injured.

While this was going on, which was all done within the fractional part of a minute, the crowded passengers, jumbled together like a lot of football players in a state of panic. The screams of the women mingled with the shouts of the men in a general effort to get assistance.

Many of them were conscious of blood flowing from their faces, the result of the flying glass from the shattered coach windows. As soon as the passengers could extricate themselves from the shapeless jumble, some of the men jumped from the windows, while others rushed for the doors, where those who were not hurt by the collision were trampled upon.

Soon every one who was able filed out of the coach that was struck, as well as from those in front. The officers of the trains then telegraphed to Louisville for a wrecking train. A train of three coaches was made up, and Dr. G. W. Griffiths, chief surgeon of the L. and N. railroad, and Dr. Ewing Marshall, assistant surgeon of the road, were notified. About 6 o'clock the wrecking train pulled out of the Tenth-street station and made a hasty run to the scene of the accident.

When the train was reached it was found that it had been necessary for the trainmen to chop out the mangled body of Mrs. Carothers, so tightly was it wedged in the car.

Mr. A. R. Carothers, the young woman's father-in-law, was wild with uncertainty when he found just what had happened. He did not know that Mrs. Carothers had been killed until the body was cut away from the wreck, and then his grief was most painful. The body was lifted tenderly from its cruel prison by willing hands and placed in the baggage coach of the new train, to be carried to the saddened home in Bardstown. Mr. J. M. Carothers, her husband, was telegraphed in Louisville, and left at once.

Drs. Griffiths and Marshall set quickly to work attending to those who were injured, binding up wounded arms and legs.

The family of Mr. T. C. Coleman had in the meantime hastened to the scene of the accident, giving all the assistance they could, and throwing open their house for any use to which the passengers or the physicians might see fit to put it.

In the meantime the shattered coach was side-tracked and a new train with the uninjured coaches and those taken by the wreckers, was made up at Shepherdsville, three miles away. Some of those injured proceeded to their destinations in Bardstown and Springfield, while others returned to Louisville on the train with Drs. Griffiths and Marshall, arriving in Louisville about 10:45 o'clock last night.

Dr. Frank Simpson, uncle of Miss Simpson who was hurt, said last night that he had no details as to his niece's injuries. He said she had suffered some cuts about the face from the flying glass, and had also injured her leg, but he did not know how seriously. He did not believe her leg was broken, but he had been unable to reach her family in Bardstown either by telephone or telegraph.

John M. Sharp, the stock and bond broker of Louisville, was on his way to Bardstown to spend Christmas with his mother. He, also, was cut about the face and arms and was badly scared. He returned to Louisville on the train with Drs. Griffiths and Marshall.

Arm Badly Lacerated.

Joseph Thompson, an oil broker, who lives at 2223 Garland avenue, was another victim of the collision. Mr. Thompson was reclining in his seat when the engine crashed into the coach. He was thrown forward and then to one side. His left arm was jammed through the window, badly lacerating the flesh on his hand. The arm was also badly cut, the rough glass tearing its way to the bone. The cut extended half way up his arm. He was brought home on the relief train. Dr. Hood was called and attended him.

Described By a Passenger.

L. R. Bonta, of Lexington, a commercial traveler, who was on the inbound train, said, in describing the wreck: "The south-bound passenger train was standing on a siding near Shepherdsville, and was crashed into from the rear by a freight train. The freight was running very slowly, and the engineer afterward said as soon as he caught sight of the passenger he shut off steam and applied his brakes, but the distance between the trains wasa so small that a collision could not be averted. The freight engine struck the coach with considerable force and tore away the rear end. The lights were put out in the coach by the force of the shock, and it was some time before the amount of damage could be learned.

"When the passengers and train crew finally got to work clearing the coach, it was necessary to remove the imprisoned passengers through the windows. The smoke from the engine filled the car and the darkness made it slow work removing them.

"Mrs. Carothers was killed by being pinned between the heavy timbers of the partition, but the young lady who was seated with her escaped injury. A number of the passengers were scratched and bruised up pretty badly, but only one man was seriously hurt, and he had his face badly mashed. Passengers in the forward coaches were badly shaken up, but none was injured. Some of the injured were taken to Bardstown and some brought to Louisville. The track was cleared in a couple of hours by the wrecking crew.

"The fireman jumped and the engineer remained at his post. Neither was injured. The engineer, in explaining the cause of the wreck, said the switch was open and he did not see the lights on the passenger coach, because of the fog, until he was nearly to it, and then it was impossible to stop. The engine was not injured."

How It Happened.

An L. and N. employe on the train said:

"The Springfield accommodation was in charge of Conductor Robert McGill, with Engineer John Davis in the cab.

"On freight train No. 13 was Conductor Louis Scanlan. George Chestcheire was engineer and Fred Deats fireman.

"Gap-in-the-Knobs is just at the top of a hill. The passenger train had stopped to take on and let off passengers. The freight train was not expected for several minutes. Engineer Chestcheire, however, wasa coming on at a good speed, and when he reached the top of the incline it was too late to stop. He reversed the lever and threw on the brakes, but the distance was too short. None of the trainmen was hurt, though the equipment was badly hammered."

The next day, The Courier-Journal [25 Dec 1899, page 8] reported on the railroad's response.

Will Investigate
Supt. Starks to Fix Blame for L. and N. Collision
Believes the Accident was Due to the Darkness and the Fog, Which Obscured Lights.

An investigation will be made to-day into the cause of the wreck on the L. and N. railroad near Shepherdsville, Saturday evening, in which one person was killed and a number injured. The crews of both trains will return to Louisville this morning.

So far it has been impossible to fix the blame on either crew, and it is the opinion of B. M. Starks, the Superintendent, that both crews were attending to their duty, but the fog, coupled with the darkness, made it impossible for the engineer of the freight to see the passenger train until he was on it.

Had it not been for the watchfulness of John Davis, the engine driver of the passenger train, the damage would have been much greater. The train had been slowed down to allow a passenger to alight, and Davis, in looking back for his signal, saw the headlight of the freight bearing down upon him. He saw it was impossible to avoid a collision, but to make it as light as possible, he opened his throttle and the train began to move slowly. It had moved about two coach lengths when the shock came, and in the opinion of trainmen the presence of mind displayed by Davis prevented a greater loss of life and more serious injuries.

It is considered remarkable that the injury to passengers was not greater, but beyond those named in yesterday's Courier-Journal none was injured to any extent. Several were badly shaken up, and many reported wrenched fingers, arms and backs. About fifteen in all were injured, but the physicians failed to get the names of any because the injuries were not serious. The body of Mrs. Carothers, who was killed in the wreck, was placed on a bed in the baggage car and removed to Bardstown. She was not as badly mangled as was first supposed.

B. M. Starks, the Superintendent, said yesterday: "The freight train left here ten minutes after the passenger, but owing to the holiday travel the passenger made many extra stops and at each lost from one to two minutes, and when it stopped to let Mr. Coleman off the freight was only a short distance away, and the engineer, being unable to see the lights on the rear end of the passenger until he was on it, could not stop in time to avoid a collision. I don't think the trainmen were to blame, but a thorough investigation will be made."

And the next day, The Courier-Journal [26 Dec 1899, page 1] reported on Mrs. Carothers' funeral.

Mrs. Carothers' Funeral

The Baptist Church at Bardstown Filled to Its Capacity - Impressive Services

Bardstown, Ky., Dec. 25 - [Special.] - The funeral of Mrs. James M. Carothers, who was killed in the railroad wreck at Gap-in-Knob Saturday night, took place at the Baptist Church here this afternoon, the Rev. I. P. Trotter officiating. The church was filled to its utmost capacity with sorrowing friends and relatives, and the funeral discourse was very impressive. Mrs. Carothers was twenty-five years old and was a great favorite in society. She was a daughter of the late W. I. Samuels, who was one of the most prominent citizens of the county, and was a young woman of great amiability and intelligence. Her marriage to Mr. Carothers took place about a year ago.

A number of Bardstown people were on the train Saturday night at the time of the wreck, and several of them were more or less injured, but all are doing well, and their recovery is assured.

The following September, The Courier-Journal [6 Sep 1900, page 2] reported on the verdict of a case where Mrs. Carothers' husband was compensated for his wife's loss.

A Verdict for $15,000
Awarded J. M. Carothers for Death of Mrs. Carothers in Gap-In-Knob Wreck

Shepherdsville, Ky., Sept. 5 - [Special] - In the case of J. M. Carothers vs. the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company to-day, the jury returned a verdict for $15,000, the largest judgment over obtained in this county. The plaintiff was represented by Col. Young, of Louisville, and Charles Carroll, of this place, and their speeches were strong and convincing. This case is one of the many growing out of the wreck at Gap-In-Knob last Christmas. Mrs. Carothers was killed in the wreck.

Here are links to some of the other cases where individuals sued the railroad for injuries during this wreck.

We also know from other sources that at least three of the passengers would later be in the fateful train wreck in Shepherdsville on 20 Dec 1917. They were Ben Talbott, Judge Frank Daugherty, and Alice May, who as Alice Pulliam was killed in that disaster.

Cora T. Samuels was born 28 Aug 1874 to William T. and Emma D. (Tichenor) Samuels. She married James M. Carothers on 20 Dec 1898 in Nelson County. Cora's brother Leslie Samuels took over the operation of the family distillery in 1898 following the death of both his grandfather and father. His son Bill would later establish the Makers Mark distillery.

As a side note, Cora's husband James later married Edna E. Miller on 29 Oct 1902 in Jefferson County. They had two sons: Alfred and Marion. Sometime after 1920, James and Edna moved their family to San Diego, California where James died in 1942.

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 11 Sep 2020 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/gapinknob1899.html