RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Ninety-five years ago, this week, a train tunnel collapsed in Church Hill, killing at least four men. Two of them remain entombed underground with the steam locomotive and ten flat cars, beneath what is now Jefferson Park.
Inside a fence, on the private property of an apartment complex, sits a piece of hidden Richmond history: the sealed-off entrance to an old train tunnel. Weathered by water, still seeping from the inside, it’s mossy and clay-burnt appearance is a reflection of the time that’s slipped away on this sealed tomb of tragedy.
“They were working at this entrance, which is the west portal. My grandfather is the gentleman sitting on the left-hand side,” said Richard Glenn while holding up an old photo of what the tunnel used to look like 95 years ago. “And my father, who was a laborer is sitting on the timber being cut.”
Glenn’s family was inside this tunnel entrance at 19th and East Marshall Streets when something went horribly wrong.
“It started out on the afternoon of Oct. 2, 1925. It was 3:20 p.m. in the afternoon," said Glenn. "It was a cool and rainy day in Richmond.”
The Church Hill tunnel was completed back in 1873 - making it one of the longest tunnels in the US at the time.
However, while being repaired on that fateful October day, nearly 200 feet of the tunnel collapsed as a steam locomotive and 10 flat cars were passing through.
“Bricks started to fall from the ceiling of the tunnel,” said Glenn.
The walls caved in, trapping the engineer and others inside.
“Tom Mason was trapped in the car because dirt and debris came through the window and mashed up against him." The engine reverse lever had fallen in such a manner as to trap him and prevent his exit.
Glenn’s father and grandfather were about 1500 feet from the disaster.
“Vibration which went through the tunnel warned them that something had happened in the tunnel and they started to run out of the east end,” said Glenn.
Another man, Ben Mosby, was severely scalded by steam from the locomotive’s boiler. Miraculously he reached the eastern entrance. Even though he escaped the “unnatural burial," he could not escape death, which came for him that night in the hospital.
Glenn’s father helped in the rescue efforts. For days they worked to construct vertical shafts. His father eventually went inside to find the body of Tom Mason.
“Harold Glenn went down into the shaft, with the help of another laborer he removed the body, Tom Mason’s body, from the chair and placed it on a hoist which raised the body to the top of the ground surface.”
This is the first time Richard’s ever visited the tunnel entrance.
“I was surprised that it’s on private property and that it looks so much different than the picture that I have of them at the entrance to the tunnel,” said Glenn.
The railroad deemed the removal of the train too expensive and unsafe. Instead, the tunnel was sealed shut on both ends, forever locking the bodies of at least two men - and a crushed train inside.
Richard Glenn wants to make sure this part of Richmond’s history is never forgotten.
“I think they should remember those that were killed," said Glenn. “Tom Mason and his family and Ben Mosby and his family and the other two gentlemen that were never found: Richard Lewis and H Smith.”
Glenn is 82 years old and really hopes to be here for the 100th anniversary of the Church Hill tunnel collapse in 2025.
Listen to our full interview with Glenn and learn more about this remarkable part of Richmond’s history in a bonus episode of NBC12′s podcast How We Got Here:
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