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The Angola HorrorThe Angola Horror

The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads

Charity Vogel

Narrated by J. M. Ross

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad’s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie. The last two cars of the express train were pitched completely off the tracks and plummeted into the creek bed below. When they struck bottom, one of the wrecked cars was immediately engulfed in flames as the heating stoves in the coach spilled out coals and ignited its wooden timbers. The other car was badly smashed. About fifty people died at the bottom of the gorge or shortly thereafter, and dozens more were injured. Rescuers from the small rural community responded with haste, but there was almost nothing they could do but listen to the cries of the dying—and carry away the dead and injured thrown clear of the fiery wreck. The next day and in the weeks that followed, newspapers across the country carried news of the “Angola Horror,” one of the deadliest railway accidents to that point in U.S. history.

In a dramatic historical narrative, Charity Vogel tells the gripping, true-to-life story of the wreck and the characters involved in the tragic accident. Her tale weaves together the stories of the people—some unknown; others soon to be famous—caught up in the disaster, the facts of the New York Express’s fateful run, the fiery scenes in the creek ravine, and the subsequent legal, legislative, and journalistic search for answers to the question: what had happened at Angola, and why? The Angola Horror is a classic story of disaster and its aftermath, in which events coincide to produce horrific consequences and people are forced to respond to experiences that test the limits of their endurance. Vogel sets the Angola Horror against a broader context of the developing technology of railroads, the culture of the nation’s print media, the public policy legislation of the post–Civil War era, and, finally, the culture of death and mourning in the Victorian period. The Angola Horror sheds light on the psyche of the American nation. The fatal wreck of an express train nine years later, during a similar bridge crossing in Ashtabula, Ohio, serves as a chilling coda to the story.

Charity Vogel is a staff reporter at The Buffalo News and a magazine writer whose work has appeared in American History and The Believer. She served for ten years as an adjunct instructor of journalism in the English Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.


The Angola Horror is an astonishing, indeed terrifying, story told with insight, compassion, and suspense. Charity Vogel achieves the near impossible, capturing the individuality of those caught up in the tragedy while simultaneously creating an expansive, compelling portrait of post–Civil War America.”

—Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light and A Fierce Radiance

“It was truly difficult to put The Angola Horror down. Both general and academic readers will find the individual stories of passengers, workers, and rescuers engaging. There is much to admire in the detective work involved in piecing together these narratives. The overall account of the journey leading up to the crash, the crash, and the rescue is well told.”

—Amy Richter, Clark University, author of Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity

The Angola Horror is a wonderfully and imaginatively researched and superbly written book. This horrific railroad accident was a dramatic event, and Charity Vogel captures the feel of mid-nineteenth-century train travel. She places events in a larger cultural and historical context, as when she ties the tragedy to how Victorian Americans viewed death and dying.”

—H. Roger Grant, Kathryn and Calhoun Lemon Professor of History, Clemson University, author of Railroads and the American People

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