Here is Melrose

Tragedy In Melrose

... a true story from my grandfather

by Steve Johnson

Back in the 1940s, when I was in grade school, my grandfather, Albert J. Beshong, told me a story which I have never forgotten. It is a story of probably the worst tragedy to ever happen in Melrose. It happened on September 21, 1904 when my grandfather was 19 years old and he remembered it well. He heard it and felt it from about 3 miles away.

The intersection of Main Street and Wyoming Avenue is similar today as it was on that Wednesday in September of 1904. The Masonic Temple was on the northwest corner and there were private residences across the street and going up the hill on East Wyoming Avenue. The streets were about the same width as they are today, but in those days, trolley car tracks ran from Malden Square along Main Street, through the city, and on up towards Wakefield.

It was shortly before 8 o’clock in the evening when a horse-drawn commercial wagon from the Eastman Express Company passed through the intersection on Main Street, heading north towards the center of town. The tail-gate of the wagon was down and sitting near the rear of the wagon was a 50 pound box of dynamite. As the wagon bumped past Wyoming Avenue, the box slid off the tailgate and landed on the trolley car tracks in the middle of the intersection. The driver of the wagon, Roy Fenton, never heard the box drop and there it sat, on the tracks in the middle of the street, unnoticed by everyone.

A short distance behind the wagon was an electric trolley car from the Boston and Northern Street Railway Company coming up Main Street, running north, outbound from Malden. The motorman on the trolley was Winfield F. Rowe of Saugus and he carried about 30 to 40 passengers including the conductor, Edward Bates Blanchard, a young Harvard student. As Levi S. Gould, the ex-mayor of Melrose, was taking his usual evening walk uptown, the trolley ran past him and over the box lying on the tracks. The resulting explosion of the dynamite hurled ex-mayor Gould several feet through the air. Cut and bruised, Gould miraculously survived with only the loss of his favorite cane, which was a valuable personal souvenir, so reported the Melrose Free Press. Nine other people were not so lucky. And many more were seriously injured. My grandfather, at his father’s home at 487 Swain’s Pond Avenue, heard and felt the blast.

Buildings and dwellings in the vicinity were badly damaged, with windows blown out and walls and furniture destroyed. Homes close by, including those of  Dr. Martin T. Sullivan, Dr. E. C. Fish, George H. Dearborn, R. H. Sircom and Fred Buttrick were used as improvised hospitals and the injured were given first-aid there. The dead were covered with sheets on the front lawns until they could be carried away.

Six people died instantly, including the motorman, whose mangled body was thrown over 50 feet from the explosion. Three others died within the next few hours. The young conductor, Ed Blanchard survived and, although terribly shaken, bloody and injured, worked heroically to remove the dead and assist the injured.

The trolley was completely demolished except for a small portion of the rear of the car. The driver of the Express wagon was taken into custody and charged with manslaughter. He was held in the East Cambridge jail in default of his $1000 bond. There is no report as to what happened to the horse.

My grandfather did not remember the names of those killed and injured, but the story in the Melrose Free Press reveals those details. The nine killed were Dr. Malcolm S. McLellan of 51 Clifton Park, Melrose; Mr. and Mrs. Edward Haynes and their 3 year old daughter, May, from Fairmont Street, Melrose; the motor man, Winfield F. Rowe of Saugus; Edith Merrill of 27 Sargent Street, Melrose; Mrs. Ada Crouch of Fullerton Street, Stoneham; Edwin A. Stowe of 848 E. Fifth Street, South Boston and Dr. Fred Marshall of 21 St. Boltolph Street, Boston.

The Melrose Hospital and the Sunnyside Hospital received the majority of the injured which included John D. Patton of Melrose Highlands who had his left leg amputated; Edwin A. Waterhouse of 19 Rowe Street with a foot amputated; George H. Andrews of Grove Street, Malden, a foot amputated; Edith Furlong of Sargent Street, Melrose with injuries to face and body; Thomas Bigwood, 102 Broadway, Chelsea, a broken leg and C. B. Shaw of 154 Clifton Street, Malden with a broken arm and ankle. Also treated were Mrs. Mary Eberts Conway who lives at the corner of Gibbons Street and Mystic Avenue in Melrose had her left foot amputated; Miss Annie Flaherty of Malden with two broken legs and veterinarian Dr. Henry C. Perry of Wakefield who had a fractured right leg.

Can you imagine, my grandfather asked, how quiet it was in Melrose in those days? There were no cars or trucks racing down the streets. No airplanes roaring overhead. No radios or televisions blaring. Up on Swain’s Pond Avenue, you could hear crickets and frogs from the ponds nearby. Down on Main Street, on that fateful evening, all you would hear was the clomping of the horse’s hoofs and the creaking of the wagon wheels as the Express Company wagon passed by. And in the short distance behind, the rattle of the approaching trolley car.

Then the explosion; the tremendous explosion of 50 pounds of dynamite in the middle of Main Street, followed, once again, by silence, broken only by the cries of the injured. And then, in the distance, the far off bells of the fire wagons, approaching.

This is what my grandfather told me.

October 6, 2006

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