I'm not quite sure what it is about man-made disasters that make it impossible to look away. I am especially intrigued when it is an event that has occurred in the early 1900s, or earlier. I think part of it is because I compare everything of this nature to September 11. I think part of it is looking how we responded valiantly and also failed to on that day with all the resources we have now, and then looking to the past to see what they did or did not do with the resources they had. We are not nearly as far removed from mishandling disaster as we think we are - the last two months are proof positive of that.
Apparently I am one of the only people who has never heard of this accident, or the controversy over who wrote the song that so many know. Semi-related, the Old 97s were the band that Jennifer Aniston's character got tickets to see in The Break-Up and now the name makes sense, or at least the reference does.
If there is anyone else who does not know this story, a quick recap:
Fast Mail train No. 97 was behind schedule, operated by a newer engineer who had previously worked freight trains, so he was already at a disadvantage because he was not totally familiar with the engine he was driving. On September 27th, 1903, this would end tragically when the train derailed, falling from the trestle and crashing into the ravine below. In all, eleven people were killed, including the engineer, so we will never know exactly what happened in those last moments before the accident, nor will we ever know whether speed, his lack of experience with mail trains, or anything else played a part, or how big their roles might have been.
The author did a fantastic job of gathering sources and putting together the story. I did find in places it became repetitive, but overall that was not an issue. I found it to be a highly engaging read on a topic I knew nothing about. His use of primary documents - the eyewitness reports, court transcripts/testimonies, and interviews with descendants of those involved - aided him well in bringing readers back in time to that terrible day.