Samuel Spencer Casualty of Rail Crash

A portrait of Spencer from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society

On November 29, 1906, Samuel Spencer, president of the Southern Railway Company, died in a violent collision on his own railroad. Spencer, a Confederate veteran and influential businessman, accompanied guests to Wake County to hunt quail. His private car, and several others, became detached from the engine due to a faulty connection and came to a dead stop on the track about 14 miles south of Lynchburg, Va. As Spencer and his guests slept, the Washington and Southwestern Vestibuled Limited smashed into their car at 40 mph, splintering it into “matchwood.”

The heap of wood and metal then caught fire, burning many of the bodies almost beyond recognition. Spencer and his guests were especially vulnerable since his private car was the last on the train and the first to be hit. African American passengers also suffered greatly since their car was struck next and the engine split it nearly in two.

Eight people died and 10 were injured. Adding to the tragedy was the alleged looting of the injured and the shattered rail cars by passengers from the Washington and Southwestern. Many well-known businessmen of the time attended Spencer’s funeral, including his good friend J. P. Morgan.

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