The Great Train Robbery

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You most often associate train robberies with the Old West.  As we began to build trains throughout the country in the mid-1800s, a large number of people began to ride the rails.  These people carried money.  Trains were also used to ship valuable items, which attracted thieves and robbers.  Surprisingly, I came across two articles about train robberies here in Greenwich.  It seems that Greenwich was not immune from train robberies!

According to "Greenwich Before 2000", the first steam passenger train passed through Greenwich  on December 25, 1848.  It ran between Boston and New York, and had to travel over the Cos Cob drawbridge to span the Mianus River at Cos Cob Harbor.  There was another small bridge built in 1859 to span the Davis Creek in Bruce Park.   It was a covered bridge with a heavy frame and shingled roof.  Although it was painted white, one could see black smudges deposited by the exhaust of many trains that passed through it.   It was known as "The White Bridge", and remained there until  

 

white bridge436.jpg                                          SOURCE: Frederick A. Hubbard

 

The bridge was a favorite destination for boys and girls playing "hookey" from school. 
They would often hang on the wooden bridge from iron braces as trains passed.  This was very dangerous, and unfortunately 11 children lost their lives from this stunt.  There was also a Davis Burying Ground nearby.  The loss of young lives and proximity of the cemetery no doubt contributed to the superstitious tales of ghosts and goblins told by the train crews.  There were stories of spectral lights appearing near the bridge.

In 1860, two robbers escaped with millions of dollars of gold and bank notes being carried on a train from New York to Boston. It was a baggage express and sleeping car train.  Horses pulled the train through the Park Street tunnel in NYC to 42nd Street where it was coupled to the rest of the train.  This is an area known for squatters and thieves, and it's no doubt this is where the robbers boarded the train.  The door to the baggage car was either forced open or left carelessly open.  It could have been an inside job - they could have had help.  Furthermore, they seemed to be very familiar with the Greenwich area as they knew where to throw off the bags and when to jump off the train.

robber437.jpg

As the train headed north, the felons went through the bags.  Bags of gold and bank notes were piled by the door, while non-negotiable securities were strewn all over the floor.  Right before the drawbridge, they began throwing the loot off the train. It was reported that the track was littered with bags for a mile. When the train slowed and stopped at the drawbridge, the robbers made their escape. They must have backtracked to hide their booty because some of it was later found in the trusses of The White Bridge and in hollowed out tree stumps adjacent to the rails.  One young girl, who was baiting crabs under the bridge, was startled when a passing train jarred a bag loose from the bridge and it landed next to her in the creek! 

In the summer of 1876, some villians covered the tracks near the Old White Bridge in Bruce Park with boulders and cross ties.  When the trainmen stopped to clear the debris from the tracks, the robbers grabbed some loot and escaped through the woods.

Since local newspapers weren't published until 1877, there is no local information on whether the thieves were caught or the money recovered.  There was nothing in the New York Times, either.  This means that these robberies may ever remain a great mystery.

 

SOURCES:

Greenwich Before 2000; HSTG, 2000

Other Days in Greenwich; Hubbard, F., 1913

 

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on November 14, 2013 11:51 AM.

Historical Happenings was the previous entry in this blog.

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