100 years later, descendants remember the many killed in Nashville railroad disaster

More than 100 people died and hundreds more were injured when two passenger trains collided in West Nashville on July 9, 1918. (public domain photo)

One-hundred years ago, a train disaster happened on a scale never seen before or after in America. A train left Nashville's Union Station and became a national tragedy.

"It was the deadliest train wreck in US history," explained Betsy Thorpe, author of The Day the Whistles Cried: The Great Cornfield Meet at Dutchman's Curve.

Thorpe and historian David Ewing weren't giving just any tour through Union Station Monday. The people with them were descendants of those on board the trains.

On July 9, 1918, at a site called Dutchman's Curve, two passenger trains collided. One train was bound for Memphis, the other heading into Nashville from Memphis. Ewing said one of the trains should have yielded around Centennial Park, and when that never happened, many were killed.

"At least 101," Thorpe said. "The seriously injured in hospitals was 300."

"The African Americans were in wooden Jim Crowe cars, and when the trains collided, these cars splintered and caught fire, so you had no chance of survival," Ewing said.

Ewing said the story only made national news for a short while.

"The week of this train crash, almost 700 Americans died in World War I," he said.

"During wartime, when that many people were killed every day, people were interested in reading the rolls to see if anyone they knew had been killed in the war," Thorpe added.

The tour couldn't mean more to Mark Milan, great-grandson of David Kennedy.

"My great-grandfather was actually killed in the accident," Milan said. "He was the engineer blamed, who was given fault for the accident. This was so painful that my family never talked about it."

Flowers were laid on the bridge over Dutchman's Curve on Monday. Milan said he's glad to see the day remembered.

"This is family," he said. "It's what happened to us. This is very personal. It's an interesting feeling where I didn't expect it."

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Forrest Sanders is an award-winning reporter, videographer and editor at News4.

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