If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen ...

A Split Second: From Joyful Anticipation to Death

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005


In his memoir, Waldo Kraemer recalled the family’s first summers on Shelter Island staying at the Oxford House. "It has quite a theatrical clientele, all most charming and under Mrs. [Emily Frances Goodale Myers] French’s eye, most circumspect.... The recreation facilities consisted of a croquet ground, flanked by a tennis court... The Oxford House had a stage to pick up guests at the ferry."

    In August 1926, Dorothy Shuford, aged 28 -- Mrs. George A. Shuford of Biltmore, North Carolina -- was visiting her parents, Charles and Ida Angell of 560 Third Street, Brooklyn with her two children, George, aged 3, and Dorothy, 1, and her personal maid, Laura Conley. Mr. Angell was president of the Cranford Company, a large Brooklyn based contracting company that was engaged in the massive building enterprises in the city. He was also active in the leadership of the General Contractors’ Association, having served as its president.
    On the afternoon of Friday, August 13, all seven of the Angell party boarded the Long Island Railroad’s “Greenport Express.” They intended to visit the family house in Shelter Island Heights where Mr. Angell was president of the boards of directors of both the Heights Association and the Ferry Company which plied two eight car ferries between slips in Greenport and Shelter Island.
    The Ferry Company had two slips in Greenport, one at Main Street and one at the Railroad Wharf, and as was its practice, the ferry -- either the New Prospect or the Shelter Island -- would meet the train and carry the Angell family directly to the Heights and deposit them a few blocks from their new house on Prospect Avenue.
    Mr. and Mrs. Angell had originally purchased a house on lots 107 and 108 on the east side of Grand Avenue in 1908 where Mrs. Shuford spent her childhood summers, but in October 1925 her parents had purchased their new house, on lots 309, 898, and part of 307. In February 1926, her parents purchased the lot between the house and the Bay. This was probably to be Mrs. Shuford’s first visit to the new house with its sweeping views of the Bay and the North Fork. From there, you could see all the way to Connecticut on a clear day.
    The train was hauled by two engines, followed by a combination club and parlor car, a combination baggage and smoker car, and five day coaches. There were 397 people on board. The Angell family was in the parlor car.
    Suddenly, at 6 p.m., about three hundred yards west of the Calverton Station, five miles west of Riverhead, the Angell family’s life turned upside down.
    The culprit was a loose cotter pin at the spur for the Golden Pickle Works.
    As the train sped eastward at 40 miles per hour, the vibration of the first engine turned the switch, sending the second engine and the rest of the train onto the spur. The interaction of the two engines going in different directions cause the engines and the parlor car to fall into the big building of the pickle factory.
    The two children were crushed and killed instantly. It took six hours to extricate Mrs. Shuford from the wreckage, during which time her injured mother and father never left her side. Although she walked to the ambulance, she died at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning at Southampton Hospital from internal injuries from inhaling the engine’s steam. She was never told that her children had died.
    Another passenger, Harold L. Fish of Manhattan and East Marion was suffocated as he drown in a sea of salt used for pickling. The two engineers from the first engine were crushed, though those from the second engine survived by jumping.
    The maid’s left leg was amputated to extricate her from the wreckage, and she also suffered a broken jaw and other injuries.
    Mr. and Mrs. Angell were treated for their injuries at the scene. They returned to Brooklyn to await the bodies of their daughter and grandchildren and the arrival of their son-in-law, an attorney, from North Carolina.
    While tending to his daughter, Mr. Angell sent word to the Ferry Company to keep the boats running to assist other passengers on the train and the 700 or so additional passengers on the following two trains.
    According to the New York Times on August 15, scores of passengers were injured. The railroad did nothing to assist the stranded passengers, over 1,000, and many walked the five miles to Riverhead to seek other transportation to their destinations.
    According to the Suffolk Times of August 20, “Many cars from the Island visited the train wreck last Friday night. The ferries ran at intervals all night to give all possible aid. Many people went to look for relatives who were expected on that special train. The tragedy cast a deep gloom over the whole community.”
    State troopers and 200 soldier from the Sixty-second Coast Artillery Company under the command of M. G. Spink kept order and assisted rescuing passengers. A crane and wrecking crews finally arrived at about 10:30 p.m.  Doctors at the scene credited Mrs. E. E. Clayton, the wife of a doctor in Riverhead, who assembled first aid kits and rushed them to Calverton where doctors had run out of supplies.
    The funeral for Mrs. Shuford and her children was held at the Angell’s home in Brooklyn on August 18.
    Sources for this story are the New York Times on line at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, the Suffolk Times, deeds on file at the Suffolk County Center in Riverhead, and Shelter Island Heights Association annual reports at the Shelter Island Historical Society.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.