My First Dead On Arrival

One of 8 victims is removed from the burning wreckage of a Budliner Train, December 1966

My father and I went to the Bruins game at Boston Garden sitting in my season tickets on Row 73, seats 3 and 4. It was December 26 or 27th, 1966, just one month into my new job. During the game one of the Plexiglas panels got shattered after a puck hit it.  The shooter was Murray Oliver of the Bruins and it delayed the game about 30 minutes for the repair.

We went home after the game and I got to bed around 11:30. I had just put my head on the pillow when Everett or Chelsea put on an alarm of fire for a collision between a Budliner Train and a tanker truck carrying gasoline at a railroad crossing on the line between those two cities.

I jumped out of bed ran down the hall to my parents bedroom and asked my father if he wanted to go with me.  We were in the car in a couple of minutes.

When we got about a block from the scene of the crash there were puddles of flaming gasoline rolling down the tracks towards us. We got out and I began taking pictures. I was using a 2 1/4 format camera, either a Yashica or a Mamiya Camera (I had both at the time), and for light I was using flashbulbs.

We made our way up to the point of impact and the first image I got was of rescuers removing a burned victim from a blown out window of one of the train cars. The second shot was of a priest giving last rites to another victim as he was being taken from the burned wreckage over a rescuer’s shoulder. I made several other photos and in the end eight people died in the fiery accident.

When I got out of the car I only had a box of flashbulbs and one roll of film in my camera for 12 images. I tried to no avail to get another roll from a couple of photographers that were there. I saw Archie Newman, a photographer from my paper. I told him about the shots I had and he told me to get right the office in order to get the photos in the last edition.

My father and I made our way to 5 Winthrop Square, in downtown Boston where the Record American was at that time, and ran up the stairs to notify the editors of the pictures and we started to develop my film.

The picture editor, Bobby Holland, was standing over me waiting very excitedly. After he looked at my negatives he was even more excited. I remember not really knowing what I was doing as I was so nervous working under such pressure to print pictures.

Bobby took wet prints, squeegeed them off and ran to photo engraving. A little while later they asked me if I could go to the morgue and wait with a reporter for the people showing up to identify the deceased. My father took a taxi back home to Revere. He was happy to do whatever as he was a part of my first big story.

Thankfully no one showed up at the morgue while I was there. Dennis Brearley (of The Brearley Collection at Faneuil Hall in Boston) eventually relieved me and he got a very good photo of a grieving relative to go with the paper’s following stories.

Next morning when the dayside staff came into work I received handshakes and verbal congratulations from everyone. I was the rookie photographer and I scored big time. We owned the story due to my photographs.

Both AP and UPI picked up my negatives at daybreak and I won my first contest with the photo of the rescue through the window at the yearly AP competition. It was a great start even if I still had 11 months of probation till I was an official staff member.

The morning paper had another great photo of the scene by Leo Tierney. His image showed the tanker up against the train and even though I might have had a great action photo his really told the story. Leo was a little upset as he had his young son, Martin, riding with him that night and was sorry he had to see such a calamity.

This made me think through the years as to what I could take my girls to and when to leave them home. Sometimes things I went to were inappropriate for them so I would leave them in the car and if I let leave the car I was always watching over my shoulder to make sure they were safe.

My wife Debbie used to go with me to stories when we first met until the day we covered the shooting death of a Chelsea policeman and she saw his widow being brought to the police station to be told what had happened and I photographed her going in.

Leo and I talked about his scene photo afterward and he explained to me about an incident he covered in downtown Boston years before. A crane overturned and he got the photo of the crane operator on a stretcher. He said he was running back to the office all excited when he saw Morris Ostroff, another staff photographer, making his way to the scene.  Morris asked him if he had a scene shot and Leo just shook his head no. Morris got the image of the overturned crane and got page one while Leo’s photo was a 2 column cut on the jump page. A lesson learned.

Every Christmas I think about this tragedy. I never looked at the train schedule to see if that 30 minutes lost to replacing the Plexiglas would have made a difference for many of the victims. Several of them had just left the Bruins game and took the train north. I never looked to see if there were earlier options. I guess I did not want to know.

I think about these victims frequently. It is 44 years later and all they missed in life as there were both young and older people who did not make it. We got photos of most of the deceased and interviews with families and some of the survivors. You felt closer to their lives by seeing and reading who they were.

I have always said I don’t wish for something bad to happen but as a news photographer I want to be there.

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