Thursday, June 07, 2007

1904 Train Wreck

Posted by Jan Patrick Mongoven on is the following window into a tragic accident in our region over 100 years ago, that has a local connection...

My great-grandfather, Michael Stephen (Steve) Mongoven, was a Northern Pacific conductor who was killed when his train - stalled on the tracks during a winter blizzard in the earliest hours of Sunday, 7 Feb 1904 - was demolished by the train sent to his rescue. The accident happened about three miles northeast of Grafton, Walsh County, North Dakota. Steve had requested rescue and told authorities that his stalled train's location was about one mile north of actuality it was about three miles north. The rescue train from Pembina came down from the north at about 25 miles per hour. It approached Grafton at around 2 a.m., believing the disabled train was one mile north of the town. The rescue engine smashed into the caboose where my great-grandfather and his brother sat waiting. He was killed and his brother was burned and suffered injuries that later healed.

My great-grandfather's body was taken the next morning to his home in East Grand Forks, MN, where his wife was informed of his death. Elizabeth Mongoven was already very ill, recovering from her final pregnancy. In a cruel twist, her newborn baby had died only hours before her husband was killed. The news left her grief-stricken, but she survived and lived to raise her five young children. A coroner's jury was convened on the Monday after the crash outside Grafton. They pinned blame on Conductor Mongoven for an error in judgement...that he had incorrectly informed the rescue authorities that his train was one mile north of Grafton instead of the actual three. Later that year, his wife (with the aid of a family friend who was a Catholic priest) received a $7000.00 payment from Northern Pacific in Minneapolis, and the case never went to court. According to newspaper accounts from the time, there were many who believed my ancestor could not have been to blame, that he was a meticulous individual who knew what he was doing and was not prone to misjudgement. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.