The tragic death of ‘Dolph’ Fo­raker on the rails

Cecil Whig - - HISTORY - By JO ANN GARD­NER An­swer: Par­tic­i­pants in the 1971 Elk­ton Hal­loween pa­rade wear Min­nie and Mickey Mouse cos­tumes.)

Spe­cial to the Whig

Rail­road ac­ci­dents were a com­mon oc­cur­rence in the late 19th cen­tury, when ev­ery day the news­pa­pers re­ported tragic sto­ries of grue­some ac­ci­dents that oc­curred while work­ing on the rail­road. Each week the Perryville Record news­pa­per ran a “Killed by Cars” sec­tion de­tail­ing the lat­est deaths along the rail­road.

One such shock­ing and grue­some death seemed to rise above some oth­ers though. The death of Ru­dolph “Dolph” Fo­raker was cov­ered in all the news­pa­pers in Ce­cil County and New Cas­tle County, Del. He was a well-liked young man who met a tragic death along the rails.

The rail­roads were a huge em­ployer in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury. The 1900 cen­sus for Ce­cil County shows that there were 82 rail­road la­bor­ers, 79 en­gi­neers, 38 tele­graph op­er­a­tors, 15 con­duc­tors and 2 sta­tion masters. Rail­road jobs were good jobs but could be dan­ger­ous. Many men worked for the rail­road their en­tire lives and were wit­ness to many ac­ci­dents and deaths. On Jan. 3, 1897, two rail­road men’s lives from North East were changed for­ever.

Ru­dolph W. Fo­raker, known by many as “Dolph,” was born in North East in 1872, as the old­est son of James and Ly­dia Lo­gan Fo­raker. By ac­counts, he was well-liked and hard-work­ing, most likely be­gin­ning to work for the rail­road in his late teens. By the age of 24 he was a tele­graph op­er­a­tor for the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road work­ing the night shift in the train sta­tion in Ne­wark, Del.

On the morn­ing of Jan. 3, 1897, he caught a freight train back to Nor th East, due to the fact there were no pas­sen­ger trains avail­able. He left Ne­wark at 7 a.m., rid­ing in the engine cab and reach­ing North East a half hour later. The train, which was com­posed of an engine and 26 cars, slowed up to 8 mph as it ap­proached the sta­tion at North East. Dolph was on the engine step plan­ning to jump off the train to the plat­form. He jumped off the step, but be­cause the plat­form was wet he lost his foot­ing and slid un­der the pass­ing train. The train sev­ered both legs and an arm, but kept go­ing un­aware of the tragedy.

Mean­while, John Ru­dolph Kenly Mof­fitt (J.R.K.) was born in North East in 1862 and was the youngest son of Sa­muel Dickey Mof­fitt and Ann Hutchin­son Mof­fitt. He came from a long line of millers, but opted for a job with the rail­road when he was 19 years old. He joined the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road on June 9, 1882, as an as­sis­tant agent and by 1890 he was a tele­graph op­er­a­tor.

J.R.K. Mof­fitt was the only per­son work­ing at the North East train sta­tion on the fate­ful morn­ing of Jan. 3, 1897, and the only wit­ness to the ac­ci­dent. He saw Dolph fall un­der the train and had to wait un­til the cars passed be­fore he “gently picked up the hor­ri­ble man­gled re­mains.” The rail­road physi­cian, Dr. House­keeper, was called and de­clared that death was in­stan­ta­neous. The re­mains were taken to Pier­son’s un­der­tak­ing rooms and an in­quest was held. Dolph’s death was de­clared an ac­ci­dent.

The fu­neral took place at his par­ent’s house which was the cus­tom at that time. The body was laid out in the mourn­ing room, or front par­lor. The at­ten­dance was great due to the dis­tress­ing cir­cum­stances and the pop­u­lar­ity of the young man. Tele­graph op­er­a­tors from Delaware and Mary­land at­tended. W.A. Wise of the Methodist Epis­co­pal Church spoke and the Mrs. John Alexan­der and the M.E. Choir sang “Good Night.” They con­veyed his body to North East Methodist Ceme­tery. The ar­ti­cle in the Ce­cil Demo­crat de­clared, “Dolph was most ex­em­plary in his habits, en­er­getic and in­dus­tri­ous. The joy of the mother’s heart, the right hand of the fa­ther, with no en­e­mies and a host of friends.”

J.R.K. Mof­fitt worked for the rail­road for more than 69 years be­fore re­tir­ing at the age of 69. Of that time, he worked for 49 years for the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road, and was named to its Roll of Honor. He went from as­sis­tant agent to block op­er­a­tor. Dur­ing his ten­ure with the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road he must have wit­nessed many events, but none as hor­ri­ble as the death of Fo­raker on that fate­ful Jan­uary morn­ing. He lived a full life mar­ried and had three daugh­ters and spent the last of his days sit­ting on his porch on Ce­cil Av­enue in North East. He died in 1942 and is buried in North East Ceme­tery.

Work­ing for the rail­road was a po­plar, but dan­ger­ous, job. One bad move and one man lost his life and an­other man’s was changed for­ever.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HSCC

Ru­dolph W. Fo­raker, known by many as “Dolph,” was a pop­u­lar 24-year-old when he died in a train ac­ci­dent, draw­ing an out­pour­ing from the com­mu­nity. He’s buried in North East Ceme­tery.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HSCC

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HSCC

John Ru­dolph Kenly Mof­fitt (J.R.K.) was the rail­road worker who saw Fo­raker slip un­der train and tried to ren­der aid. The young man was de­clared to have died in­stantly though.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HSCC

Deaths along rail­road lines were so com­mon in the late 19th cen­tury that The Perryville Record news­pa­per ran a weekly col­umn on the in­ci­dents, such as this one about Fo­raker’s death.

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