If You Like Workplace Safety Standards, Thank My Family

by Debbie on May 18, 2013

My family tree seems to make a pretty good case for the need for OSHA standards. In searching old newspapers for details of their lives, I’ve already stumbled on several family members who met rather horrific ends in the workplace.

My third great-grandfather, Andrew Marriner, fell into a circular saw at a lumber mill, and literally cut himself in half. No less dramatic was the death of another third great-grandfather, Joseph Augustus Seeds. Joseph was an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad whose engine caught fire as it pulled ten passenger coaches out of Jersey City. An account in the New York Herald-Tribune the next day (Saving a Train from Wreck, Monday, October 23, 1882) lauded him as a hero who sacrificed his own life to save the 600 passengers on board. Joseph had initially escaped the burning engine, which was, by all witness accounts, an inferno, but he ran back into the fire to stop the train as it sped across the Hackensack River. He died of his burns a few days later. Joseph’s older brother George also worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and census records showed he had lost an arm in a workplace accident at some point. These gruesome tales were long detached from the chain of our family’s oral history, and only through historic newspapers have we rediscovered how these ancestors lived and died.

The stories that did get passed down, however, haven’t been as easy to confirm. Two of my grandfathers were also injured seriously in what can only be described as freak accidents, one in the workplace, and one as a child. And another railroad accident ended the career of a second great-grandfather. But so far, I’ve been unable to find a single piece of proof in print.

Joseph Jones, better known as Pappap in my immediate family, lost a leg in an industrial accident. The story, as originally told to me, was that he got in the way of a wrecking ball. But family members have more recently clarified a few details. It seems he was actually struck by a large bucket of scrap metal (nickel, specifically), which was suspended by a hook that failed. I know the accident happened for certain, because I sat on Pappap’s wooden foot as a child and knocked on his wooden leg. The leg was definitely gone before I entered the picture. But no one can tell me where the accident occurred (where he was born, in Pennsylvania, or where he lived most of his life, in NJ?), or precisely when. It’s very hard to find any account of an accident if you don’t know where it happened or when, as it turns out! I have to believe there’s a newspaper clipping somewhere about this poor chap who had a bucket of nickel dropped on him and had to have his leg amputated as a result. I mean, I found three separate incidents of people’s fingers being crushed in just one 1918 issue of the Red Bank Register. A leg should warrant at least 2 inches of column space! And it doesn’t make it any easier that my grandfather’s name was Joseph Jones. Try searching for that name anywhere, and narrowing down the results effectively.

William Clampffer, my mother’s father, suffered his injuries as a young boy. As I understand it, he was observing an auto race when a crash on the track sent debris flying into the crowd, and a piece of a race car impaled his leg through the thigh. He didn’t lose his leg, fortunately, but he did suffer pain from the injury for the remainder of his life, and I’ve heard he walked with a limp. Again, I have no information regarding where the accident occurred, or when. I did find a summary of Pennsylvania case law related to his lawsuit, so it must have happened at a race track in Pennsylvania (despite some family members thinking it may have occurred in Wall Township, NJ). One would think a boy (I believe he was about 12 at the time) being hit by a flying race car would get some coverage in a newspaper or two. But so far, I’ve been unable to find any news related to his accident. I know my uncle Bill spent a good amount of time researching his father’s accident, but to the best of my knowledge, the details eluded him, too.

And then there’s what may be the most tragic family tale of them all, a story told by my now-deceased grandmother. My second great-grandfather, John Edward MacIntyre, was at the controls of a Pennsylvania Railroad train when he spotted a woman pushing a baby carriage across the tracks. He tried everything he could to stop the train, but was unable to do so, and the engine struck and killed the mother and child. As Grandma Hadley told it, he climbed down off the engine and never got back on it. He was devastated by the accident. And again, I have no knowledge of where this accident occurred, or precisely when. He lived in Elizabeth, NJ for the last years of his career and life, so I’ve searched newspapers in NJ, PA, and NY. Just this week, I spent a few hours in the local history room of the Elizabeth Public Library, and used city directories to piece together a timeline of sorts. He was listed as a Pennsylvania Railroad engineer each year through 1927, and then in 1928, he is only listed with a home address, no occupation. Just one year later, his wife is listed as a widow. If the story is true, and the accident occurred sometime around 1927-8, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he died a short time afterward. Witnessing such a horrific accident, and thinking you might have been able to prevent it but failed, would drain the life out of a person, I think.

Solving these mysteries is going to take more than the internet, obviously. I think I’ve got some hours sitting at the microfilm viewer ahead of me. And I’m hopeful that the Urban Archives at Temple University – where a considerable collection of Pennsylvania Railroad employee and pension documents are housed – will yield some answers in the case of John Edward MacIntyre. Stay tuned for more gory family tales.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mom November 23, 2013 at 4:16 am

I see I hadn’t commented on this article and I’m sorry about that. You are really trying to find these stories and we all appreciate it. The older you get, the more you think about the lives of the family members that led up to, well, you! They gave a little to each person and eventually their knowledge, or lack of it, influenced you. Good luck Debbie!

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Mom (Sallie Clampffer Hadley) May 12, 2015 at 6:49 pm

I wonder if the company that put on the car races brought their shows to Wall Township but were from PA. That might help, to look at it that way. If only we knew the questions we would have to ask before all these people were gone.

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Debbie May 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm

I don’t think so. The races were sponsored by the Pottstown Automobile Dealers Association and the accident occurred in the early 1920’s. Wall’s track didn’t open until 1950, from what I read. I think it was just an association someone made because he lived in Monmouth County as an adult.

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Jason S. January 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Debbie,

I came upon your site searching for ancestors. Joseph Augustus and his brothers are a direct lineage to me. Please email me at your earliest convenience, as I would greatly like to discuss my family’s history deeper. Thank you.

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