"Was it not a rum disaster, after all, at Spuyten Duyvil?"
This cartoon by Thomas Nast pinpoints the use of alcohol by passengers aboard
the Hudson River Railway as the cause of a fatal train wreck at Spuyten Duyvil
in New York City.
The train originated in Albany, New York, and included several state
legislators and other state government officials. Testimony by the
conductor and others alleged that there was much drinking and revelry by the
passengers. It was suggested that one of the inebriated passengers had
pulled the air-brake, forcing the train to stop and causing another train to
crash into it.
Through the cartoon's imagery and caption, artist Nast seems to place the
blame squarely on the passengers' excessive use of alcohol. On the other hand, Harper's
Weekly editor George William Curtis agreed with the coroner's jury that the
Hudson River Railroad Company and its employees were negligent. In a
February 4 editorial, Curtis labeled the train wreck as a "massacre"
and "slaughter" with unnecessary loss of life. He condemned the
railroad company for allowing the air-brake cord to be "accessible, like
the bell cord, to every passenger," and for failing to establish a
"proper system of precaution." As he had been doing for almost
twenty years, Curtis pleaded with the state legislature to enact sensible safety
regulations for public transportation.
Robert C. Kennedy