Friday, January 30, 2015

Recalling the wreck of a storied train

CHATSWORTH A first-of-its kind event on Saturday in Chatsworth will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the wreck of the storied Blue Comet train with speeches, dulcimers, a walking tour, fresh apple pie with cheese, and a film depicting the steam train's history and Atlantic City, its destination, in its heyday in the '20s and '30s.

When 15 inches of rain fell upon the tiny Pinelands community in Burlington County on Aug. 19, 1939, the track washed away, causing the steam train to derail. Seventeen people were injured, including one who died later. The accident - and the popularity of the automobile - signaled the end for the luxury train, which started in Jersey City in 1929.

For a $5 donation, visitors to the 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. event will hear lectures and watch a film at the White Horse Inn, 3980 Main St., Chatsworth, a village in Woodland Township, according to the township's historical society, the sponsor. A few doors away, and throughout the day, the Greater Pinelands Dulcimer Society will play on the porch of Buzby's General Store. The local fire company will sell "Blue Comet Specials," including sandwiches, salads, soup, drinks and pies (with cheese on the side, as was popular back then).

Memorabilia, including a piece of Milepost Marker 86, which had been at the site of the wreck, will be on display at the inn along with old photographs of the train and its passengers and spectators. Another curious item to be exhibited is a map showing the Blue Comet's route, with points of interest along the way including "The Country of the Pine Robbers Who Preyed on Both Sides During the Revolution," "The Pine Belt," "Jersey's Famous Cranberry Section," and "The Last Homes of the Lenni Lenape Indians."

The opening remarks will be at 9:45 a.m., when Walter Brower will talk about what he saw as a boy when the train derailed less than a mile from his house and when he ran through the woods to help tourists to safety. At 10 a.m., historian and author Paul Schopp will give a lecture, followed at 11 a.m. by a film and talk by Robert Emmons, a Rutgers professor and filmmaker. At 1:30 p.m., Al Stokley, a rail historian and train enthusiast, will speak, followed at 2:15 p.m. by Schopp, again, and 3 p.m. by Emmons, again.

Historical markers will be unveiled, along with maps for a self-guided walking tour of the village, including the old train station.

- Jan Hefler

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