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Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster


Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster
Friday Jun. 9, 2023 at 6:30pm
Akron Civic Theatre

The Ashtabula train disaster and bridge collapse was the worst train disaster of the 19th century, claiming the lives of 97 people. The engineering and structural failures that caused the collapse of a bridge that stood for over a decade, also took down the most luxurious train of the day, “The Pacific Express #5.” The accident happened during a raging blizzard sending the luxury train crashing 70-feet into a river gorge and costing the lives of 97 people. The disaster shocked the nation, yet it’s a story that’s been lost in the pages of history. This disaster became a rallying cry for regulation and change between big business, the public, and the federal government.

In a strange twist of fate and intrigue, the bridge disaster also became the backdrop to the still unsolved murder of Charles Collins, the railroad’s chief engineer. It also contributed to the eventual suicide of millionaire Amasa Stone, the president of the railroad and the designer and builder of the bridge.

This documentary explores the events surrounding the disaster that occurred in Ashtabula, Ohio on December 29, 1876. We will cover the engineering, construction, and collapse of the Ashtabula Bridge; the treacherous conditions that hampered the rescue attempts of trapped passengers; the heroes surrounding this event, including America’s first African-American telegraph operator; and the ensuing investigations that prompted new national safety standards for the railroads. After this disaster public outcry forced states to pass new bridge building standards and inspection laws that apply even today.

This documentary is very cinematic and uses actors and historians to bring this story to life.

The documentary was produced for PBS and has received very positive reviews for its recreation of the disaster and storytelling.

The Akron Civic Theatre thanks these
foundations and corporations for their support:

Knight Foundation
PNC Bank
Akron Community Foundation
Ohio Arts Council
Peg's Foundation
Corbin Foundation
Lehner Family Foundation
Thomas & Lisa Mandel Family Fund
Akron Civic Commons
Huntington National Bank
City of Akron
County of Summit
ICF Foundation
Akron Civic Theatre Women's Guild
Knox Marketing
Sisler McFawn Foundation
Synthomer Foundation
FirstEnergy Foundation
M G O'Neil Foundation
GPD Group
Printing Concepts
Calhoun Charitable Trust
Akron Childrens Hospital
Greer Family Foundation
Harwick Standard
Steere Enterprises
Hilton Garden Inn
The Berroteran Group
Cohen & Company
Ernst & Young
Great Lakes Honda
Greater Akron Chamber
Malco Products
Maynard Family Foundation
McAfee Tool and Die
Metis Construction Services
Metro RTA Akron
S.A. Comunale
State & Federal Communications
Summa Health
United Way of Summit and Medina
The University of Akron
Wichert Insurance
Akron Pride
Stage Left
Gay Community
Acme Fresh Market
Akron Summit CVB
BFG Federal Credit Union
Crystal Dental Lab
First National Bank
Fifth Third
Lake Erie Electric
MS Consultants
SeibertKeck Insurance