The tragic death of ‘Dolph’ Foraker on the rails
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.
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.
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.
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.