Over the past century, many stories relating to the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster, Dec. 29, 1876, have emerged. Here is a sampling of these tales as we wrap up the first 65 years of Ashtabula County history in our Odd Tales series.
Last man across
The last man to safely take a train across the ill-fated bridge that night was C.N. Pond, 22 at the time. Pond became an engineer at the age of 19. The night of the disaster he was working a different job, on a switching engine.
Freight had arrived in the city from Oil City, Pa., and Pond’s orders were to move it to the freight house, where it would remain until the mainline was cleared of snow. That necessitated running the train onto the gulf bridge in order to switch to a another track. While Pond waited on the bridge, a freight train from the east approached and passed thereupon shortly before 7:30 p.m.
Pond delivered the freight and was told to start clearing the tracks of snow. The drifts were so large, however, Pond’s engine stalled. He sent for help, but none arrived. Pond and his fireman, Henry Dwyer, spent the night caring for the stalled engine, unaware of the disaster — and his unique fortune — until the next morning.
First to help
James Edward Manning, born Sept. 8, 1858, was credited as one of the four persons who first reached the wreck. Getting down the steep gulf bank, which was covered with at least 2 feet of snow, was a major feat. Amazingly, Manning did it without benefit of natural legs.
At the age of 8, Manning had accepted a dare from one of his friends and tried to hitch a ride on a Lake Shore and Michigan Southern train. Manning lost, big time. He slipped under the train and both of his legs were amputated.
Doctors gave the child little hope of survival, but he pulled through and went on to get a billing clerk’s job with the railroad. It is said Manning made all of his artificial legs.
Manning, who was known as “Uncle Jim” around town, died in 1954 at the age of 95.