The Washerwoman’s Genes

October 16, 2009

Trains Passing in the Night

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 2:11 pm

In 1976 the records of defunct railroads—the Pennsylvania and the companies it had absorbed over the years—were held in a series of decrepit warehouses in West Philadelphia, on Merion Avenue, near what are now the Amtrak tracks.

I found this out in the course of a search for an archive that might hold the records of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. The University of Connecticut, logically enough, looked to be the site for research into that company, until I read further on a forum devoted to the New Haven line: “Everything the [New Haven Railroad] had and put on deposit at the University of Connecticut is available except the employee records. [They] did not get or want them. These were shipped to Philadelphia, and disappeared into the PC black hole.”

After that comment, I had to get a bit of an education in railroad history: PC meant the Penn Central line. It had absorbed the New York Central, which was itself a consolidation of NY railroads all the way up to Connecticut. My target company, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford, had disappeared into the NY Central. I was looking for a minnow in the belly of a cod that had been swallowed by a whale. A lot of digestion, I feared, had already gone on.

Learning that in the 1970s the stash of records filled warehouses—plural warehouses—located a mile or so from where I was living then, in my grad school days, in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood, meant that these records and I had slipped past each other, in a darkness, where the strands of the small personal events that connected us were not apparent. I am still looking for those records, records that might add to what I have learned about my great-grandfather’s death under the wheels of a New York, New Haven, and Hartford train sometime in the night of March 10, 1892.

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