On June 23, 1900, Georgia experienced its worst rail disaster. Southern Railway’s No. 7 train came across a washed-out bridge at the Camp Creek trestle, just south of Atlanta. The train plummeted 60 feet into a flooded creek and burst into flames, killing 35 of the 45 people aboard.
The train had left Macon, GA at 7:10pm where it was scheduled to couple with a train from Columbus, GA which thankfully for those passengers, was running late and missed its departure time. Once the train reached McDonough, the weather had turned worse, and passengers were wary of travelling in such poor conditions. When the engineer, J.T. Sullivan, heard about the nervous passengers he replied, “We’ll either be having breakfast in Atlanta or Hell.” Sullivan received his orders to depart McDonough at 9:45pm.
The unrelenting rain of the last two weeks had washed the bridge’s brick support away and the bridge collapsed under the weight of the train. The locomotive and the first two cars burst into flames after hitting the embankment, only one Pullman car remained unburned holding the only survivors.
One survivor, flagman J.J. Quinlan, ran to the closest telegraph operator, relayed the news, and passed out on the floor. All the men of McDonough were summoned to assist with rescue; however, the flames held those efforts back. In the morning, the city of Atlanta sent doctors and ministers by train to assist.
Those passengers and railway employees that were not identified by family or documentation, were laid out in McDonough’s town square for identification.
To this day, people claim their spirits continue to ask to be recognized.
A video of a dedication to those who lost their lives can be found here.
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