By Rich Tarrant
Coming from a newspaper family when I was growing up a good deal of the conversation about the dinner table was, of course, the news of the day. Those conversations were also sprinkled with a good variety of events of the yesteryear. Among those topics at one time or another was a string of events that were purely coincidental but were, and remain, nonetheless unusual.
During the span of about only 20 years – 1910 to 1929 – three very prominent Vermilion doctors lost their lives at railroad crossings in our community. To better understand at least part of the reason for this it’s important to understand that during the years of those tragedies physicians traditionally made home calls as a regular part of their practice. That’s due to the fact that he public at-large did not have immediate access to the emergency, personal and/or pubic means of transportation that we now take for granted. Ergo, office visitations were more the exception than the rule in days gone by. And thus did it happen that Vermilion lost three very good doctors in a relatively short amount of time.
This all began on a snowy Friday night with Vermilion physician Frank E. Englebry. Dr. Englebry was a Vermilion guy through and through. He was born in 1864, the oldest child of local undertaker John Englebry and his wife Mary. In 1888 he married a Vermilion girl named Barbara Nieding and after acquiring his medical degree in 1893 he set up practice in his hometown. His practice covered a good deal of territory, and quickly became a familiar and welcome face to folks in three counties: Erie, Huron and Lorain. Though his wife died in 1904 he kept busy with his practice and enjoyed the camaraderie of the memberships of every organization / lodge in village; including the Masons, Maccabees, two lodges of Woodmen, Knights and Ladies of Security as well as the Eastern Star. Actually he was enjoying an evening with some of those folks when he was summoned to a medical emergency at the home of one James Hollis of Axtel. He never made it.
Rushing to Decker’s Livery barns (now the site of the Ritter Public Library) and procuring a horse and closed buggy, the doctor sped up Grand Street to the rail crossing. It was between 1:30 and 2:30 in the morning in a blinding snowstorm. He reached the crossing at the same time an eastbound express train reached it and…
Some time later when the express train reached Cleveland maintenance workers found parts of a buggy on the cowcatcher. It was then that the engineer put two and two together recalling hitting what he thought was a huge snowdrift while passing through Vermilion. He immediately sent news back to Vermilion and Liveryman Decker began searching along the rails. The doctor was found 150 feet north and east of the crossing; the horse on the south side; and the wreckage was strewn along the rails to the river bridge. There were no survivors.
Eleven years later – on a late Monday afternoon in March another Vermilion doctor, Bernard Blaine Buell, was enroute home following a call in the Brownhelm area when his auto apparently stalled on the tracks (probably at the Sunnyside Road crossing). At the same time a westbound passenger train heading for Sandusky neared the crossing. Later reports indicated that the engineer repeatedly sounded a warning but the train did not slow, and Buell stayed with the car.
Whether Buell miscalculated the speed and distance of the train, did not hear the warning signals or was dazed due to another problem will never be known. It was noted that just six weeks earlier Dr. Buell had arrived home from a call, parked his car and then collapsed. He was unconscious for nearly 24 hours. When he regained his senses he was unable to explain what had happened. Some thought he might have fallen somewhere and hit his head. Others thought he might have been knocked-out and robbed (some of his money was missing). Five doctors attended him during this spell. But no reason for his losing consciousness was ever discovered. Nor would it ever be discovered. Dr. Buell had, of course, been killed.
And then there was Dr. Morey P. Jeffery. Dr. Jeffery was likely one of the most popular doctors that had ever served the town. He was young, only 33 years old, had three boys who would themselves become very prominent and popular Vermilionites. He was a very active supporter of local athletes. But sometimes being a young and very popular doctor can prove to be physically demanding. The New Year (1929) had just begun and he’d hardly had a “real meal” or a reasonable night sleep during the previous two weeks. The flu season was raging and there were hardly enough doctors to keep up with it.
It was only 10:30 in the morning and he was on his way to another call to a home on the southwest side of the village. As he crossed from the north side of the New York Central Railroad crossing at Adams Street he drove directly into the path of a westbound passenger train and was instantly killed. The town gasped for a third time in only two decades.
These events were eventually lost and have been largely forgotten by most townsfolk. But when you’re the son of newspaper people, and you’re gathered around the dinner table with your family discussing the current state of the world you come to understand that yesterday’s news is history.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org