The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 22, 2013

Huron Primary students learn about Ashtabula train disaster of 1876

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — The third grade students of Huron Primary have spent the past month immersed in learning about one of the worst rail disasters in our country's history, the Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876.

The conclusion of the unit brought with it a special presentation, where students not only saw a replica of the train and bridge, but also hundreds of artifacts which were recovered from the disaster site.

Teacher Raena Sidbeck’s grandfather, Paul Petros, was a historian and founder of the Marine Museum.

“I grew up surrounded by local history. I use to go with my grandfather when he gave slide show presentations on the history of Ashtabula,” she said. “When I developed this unit on the train disaster, I did so with the intention of it being a small tribute to him. He loved Ashtabula and he worked diligently to make it a better place. I hope he is looking down smiling knowing others are learning about our community's rich history.”

The presentation was organized with the help of Bill and Barbara Hamilton, whose grandsons Ty and Wyatt, are students at Huron.

Barbara Hamilton spoke to the audience and gave a historical account of the Night of Dec. 29, 1876.  She also presented several short videos further outlining the tragedy.  

The Hamiltons are both historical experts.

Barbara was a contributor to the book, “Bliss and Tragedy, The Ashtabula Railway Bridge Accident of 1876 and the Loss of P.P. Bliss.” She is also author of “Where Have all the Schoolhouses Gone.”

Bill Hamilton is a team member of the “Engineering Tragedy” documentary and is a researcher.  Both are active members of the Jefferson Historical Society.

Another presenter was Dave Tobias, an artifact hunter who brought more than 100 items recovered from the train disaster sight. He was also a  contributor to the book, “Bliss and Tragedy.”

The last contributor was Gary Tabor, who brought a replica of the Pacific Express and the Ashtabula bridge. Tabor owns his own private museum filled with vintage toys. He has been helping in the filming and research for the upcoming documentary, “The Engineering Tragedy, The Story of the Ashtabula Train Disaster.”

“Our third grades have absolutely absorbed the facts surrounding this tragedy.  They’re interested in every aspect,” Sidbeck said. “Today’s presentation was the grand finale and they were thrilled. Because of the generosity of our presenters, over 100 children left today with a true understanding of a piece of Ashtabula history.”