Deaths in the Hoosac Tunnel

Courtesy of the North Adams Public LIbrary

The Hoosac Tunnel has seen years of tragedy. During construction of the tunnel, it is claimed that 195 people died in or around the tunnel over the 20+ years of construction, earning it the name “The Bloody Pit”. Workers died in and around the tunnel, but not all deaths were of tunnel workers, such as Orrin, 14, who was killed by an elevator accident.

Many deaths were not identified, therefore some deaths are simply reported as “Unknown”, even “Brother of…” Locating confirmed deaths is no easy task as dates may change from article to article, and even varying spellings of names are listed.

The dangers of the tunnel were well known and it was not uncommon to see crying family members waiting for their deceased loved ones outside of the tunnel. Despite these countless and continuous tragedies, the Hoosac Tunnel workers continued on with their job, often times singing:

“Drill, ye Tarriers, drill
For it’s work all day,
For the sugar in your tay,
Down beside the railway
And drill, ye Tarriers, drill
And blast and fire”


Presented below is a click-through timeline of multiple confirmed deaths. Below the click-through timeline a traditional scroll-and-read timeline is offered.

The following information may be difficult to read through.

“The Hoosac Tunnel had always been a place where human bodies were crushed under rocks, blasted into unrecognizable pieces by explosives, or pounded senseless by large timbers. With the lack of engineering leadership, the Hoosac Tunnel would claim [many lives]…”¬†



Dates Unknown
J. Day, killed in a machinery accident
Richard Dunn, killed by an explosion
Joseph Granger, killed by an explosion
Felix McDuff and his brother, killed by an explosion

September 10th, 1859
William Johnson, killed by a falling rock

December 16th, 1859
John Fennel, killed by an explosion

March 17th, 1864
Englishman, name unknown, killed by an explosion

January 19th, 1865
Daniel Bradley, killed by an overturned load

April 5th, 1867
Fred Trombly, killed by a falling drill

August 11, 1867
William Dunn, killed from a fall

October 19th, 1867— The Central Shaft
(dates listed as the day of the incident: 17th, 19th, 20th)

Workers were in the process of digging the vertical shaft when a candle ignited the fumes being leaked into the area resulting in an explosion that would drop the hoist the workers were on into the shaft.

There was a singular effort made to try and rescue the men but the fumes were too strong for anyone to go down into the shaft. The 13 men who had fallen had initially survived and created a raft to keep from drowning but eventually died from the toxic fumes. Their bodies were found several months later.

James Burnett
James Cavanaugh
Peter Collins
Thomas Collins
Patrick Conolley
Thomas Cook
John Curron
James Fitzgerald
Edwin Haskins
James McCormick
Joseph Messier
Thomas Mulcare
Michael Whalan 

June 29th, 1869
Two unknown workers killed from a fall

September 13th, 1869
Menable, first name unknown, killed from a fall

October 4th, 1869
Richard Barryman, drowned in a flood

October 18th, 1870
Matthew Jewell, killed from a fall
Cornelius Redding, killed from a fall

November 29th, 1870
John Hocking Jr., killed by a falling rock

December 18th, 1870
William James, killed from a fall

December 23rd, 1870
John Velsor, killed by an explosion

December 29th, 1870
McGowan, first name unknown, killed by a fire

January 12th, 1871
Joseph T. Butloe, killed by an explosion

August 8th, 1871
John Ferns, killed by an explosion
John Kennedy, killed by an explosion
Patrick Shea, killed by an explosion

October 14th, 1871
Terry Columbus, killed by drawing a charge
(Reuben Bottwell survived the incident)

March 2nd, 1872
John McCann, killed by an explosion

September 11th, 1872
Michael Harrington, killed by an explosion
David Witto, killed by an explosion
(John Scollay survived the accident)

September 21st, 1872
Stone, first name unknown, killed by an explosion
(John Smith survived the accident)

October 3rd, 1872
Michael Cunningham, killed by drawing a charge

June 29th, 1873
Stephen Brown, killed by an explosion
Michael Campbell, killed by an explosion
Henry Ferns, killed by an explosion
Timothy Lynch, killed by an explosion
Dennis McFayden, killed by an explosion
(Francis Kingsley survived the accident)

September 11th, 1873
David Bourdon, killed by an explosion

September 16th, 1873
William Hickey, killed by an explosion

December 15th, 1873
Miles O’Grady, killed by a falling rock

March 6th, 1874
James Mulaney, killed by an explosion

September 20th, 1874
Orrin Wilson, struck by an elevator
Orrin Wilson was the son of a Hoosac Tunnel worker. He was found with his head crushed from being struck by an elevator. It is suspected that the friend he was with ran after the accident and was too afraid to come forward with the exact details leading up to his death.
Orrin was fourteen years old.

December 26th, 1878
Brown, first name unknown, killed by a fire




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