154 years ago tragedy struck
At least 15 died when bridge collapsed
ALBION – It’s our darkest day, Sept. 28, 1859.
It was supposed to a joyous, fun-filled occasion. The annual Orleans County Fair drew waves of people to Albion, and the celebration included a wire-walker, who would attempt to walk across the canal. A rope was strung just west of the Main Street bridge, reaching from the top of a hotel to a block of stores.
There was a wire-walking frenzy back in those days. Jean Francois Gravelet, “The Great Blondin,” walked across Niagara Falls on a tight rope on June 30, 1859. A bunch of copycats sprang up, including one in Albion three months later during the county fair.
The Main Street bridge was packed with 250 people and five horses to watch a wire walker, “a young adventurer from Brockport,” according to a newspaper account. The wirewalker didn’t get far. With a mass of people crowding to see the spectacle, he made it 10 feet. Then the wooden bridge gave out, plunging the crowd into the canal.
At least 15 people died, and many more were maimed and seriously injured.
Here are some of their names:
Perry G. Cole, aged 19, Barre
Augusta Martin, aged 18, Carlton
Mrs. Ann Viele, aged 36, Gaines
Edwin Stillson, aged 16, Barre
Joseph Code, aged 18, Albion
Lydia Harris, aged 11, Albion
Thomas Handy, aged 66, Yates
Sarah Thomas, aged 10, Carlton
Harry Henry, aged 22
Ransom S. Murdock, aged 17, Carlton
Adelbert Wilcox, aged 17, West Kendall
Sophia Pratt, aged 18, Toledo, Ohio
Thomas Aulchin, aged 50, Paris, C.W.
Jane Lavery, Albion
Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin and the Orleans County Historical Association put up a marker near the canal in 2002, noting the canal tragedy. I would like to see the community do more, to remember these children, young mothers and other county residents.
I think a memorial fountain by the canal between the two lift bridges in Albion would be a more fitting recognition of this horrible event. The fountain would also beautify the canal and help draw people to the downtown area.
But this is more about paying our respects.
Albion students are doing their annual Ghost Walk today at Mount Albion Cemetery from 5 to 9 p.m. I know Jane Lavery, who died in the bridge collapse, will be featured.
The bridge collapse was widely covered from newspapers throughout the country. To read accounts from the tragedy, click here.