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Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads
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August 2014 > Angola Horror Discussion

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Ellen | 224 comments Just a reminder that our title for August is The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads by local author, Charity Vogel. Ms. Vogel has generously agreed to participate in our online discussion. In order to accommodate her schedule, we will be moving our discussion up slightly. It will take place online August 12-19, 2014.

If you had a chance to see Ms. Vogel speak here at UB in May, you know that she shared many interesting vignettes about the people and families in her book, as well as tidbits about how she did her research (which included the assistance of a number of our UB Libraries colleagues).

Happy summer and happy reading!

Ellen | 224 comments Good morning! Are we ready to start our discussion of this month’s book?

It is The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads by Charity Vogel. We are fortunate that the author has agreed to participate in our online discussion of her book over the course of the next week. So let’s take advantage of that and put our questions to Charity about the book, her research and writing process, her UB experience, whatever … And Charity, please feel free to ask us questions right back. As usual, we’ll keep this informal and just let the discussion flow where it may.

Here is Charity’s bio from her book jacket: “Charity Vogel is a staff reporter at The Buffalo News and a magazine writer whose work has appeared in American History and The Believer. She served for ten years as an adjunct instructor of journalism in the English Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.”

I’ll begin by saying that I was amazed at the obviously huge amount of research that went into this book. And then by the way it was all brought together into what I felt was an engaging account of the events, fleshed out by the stories of the people involved. The fact that this happened here in our area made it that much more interesting to me too.

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N (kaxxie) | 25 comments I was very interested in reading this book, based on its topic, geographic location, and era, and I was well-pleased, indeed, with all those elements. I really like local history, especially concerning that time period, and I found this book both engaging and informative. What I loved best, however, was how well the historical record was integrated into the story; I really felt as if we got to know the passengers, in as much as it could be possible, through careful snippets of interviews and the author's cautious recreation of scenes, in a way that seemed authentic and respectful. I especially appreciate how well the book pays tribute to all the people involved.

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Hello UB book club members: thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your discussion of my book. I will try to respond to some of your thoughts here, and please -- if you have any questions about the book, ask away and I will do my best to answer them. It's an honor to have "The Angola Horror" chosen for your August read!
-- Charity Vogel

Ellen | 224 comments Welcome Charity -- we're thrilled to have you join us!

One of the things that intrigued me was the way you intertwined the sensibilities of the people at the time about things like death, women's place in society, travel, etc. Being able to read and understand the context of the time so thoroughly really made the book for me.

Charity -- Was that approach a conscious early decision on your part? Or did it somehow emerge as you worked?

Lori (widz) | 55 comments Beautifully stated, both Nancy and Ellen. I couldn't agree more with your thoughts. Question for you, Charity...how long did it take you to do the research on all the different passengers and their families?

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Ellen and everyone: I am glad the book gave you that sense, of reaching out into other contexts and spheres of life in this time period, 1867. The 19th century is fascinating to me -- my dissertation at UB took a look at some aspects of the literature and art of that period. So I tried to immerse myself in the post-Civil War era, to learn as much as I could about what life was like for women and men and families then. Not just that the women passengers on the train wore dresses to travel by railroad -- but what kind of dresses they were, and what colors, and what their bonnets and reading material for the trip would have been, in December of 1867. That sort of detail fascinates me; I can never know enough. I hope that came through to the reader.

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Lori: I spent several years on that part of the research, with the fantastic assistance of wonderful librarians and archivists and local historians. On a project like this, I think you are always working on many things at once. So, I was looking for details about the passengers and Angola residents of the time while also doing other sorts of digging. Great question!

Rena | 50 comments I am generally not a non-fiction reader, but I enjoyed this book very much. The seamless way the times were woven into the lives of the people on the train was so well done. I am familiar with the Civil War era since my dad was fascinated by it - I believe I had been to every battlefield on the east coast by the age of 14. However, I never thought about the post-war era and how the war affected the lives of the people after it was over. This was made very clear in the book. I also liked the mechanical information about what the rails were made of and how the brakes worked (or didn't). Charity, I can't believe the amount of research that was needed to write this book. I have to ask - what was the specific topic of your UB dissertation? And do you have an idea for another book in your head?

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Kath | 202 comments Mod
Charity -- I have to echo other comments about appreciating how you wove so much historical context into the narrative (the tobacco chewing in the cars sticks with me for some reason - yuck); I found that very helpful as I don't have much background in the Reconstruction era and the details really brought the scenes to life. Like Rena, I also appreciated information about the railroads. It never occurred to me that there would be such dramatic differences in rail sizes from one rail line to the next; or that there would be so many different rail lines covering what seemed to be small distances to me. So interesting.

I found it very suspenseful reading of these people and their parallel journey, not knowing who was going to survive (though I am a reader of the Notes so could find out some of that in advance by the sources cited). Having a sense of the individuals really enhanced the story for me. And "Horror" is certainly the right word in describing that crash scene.

Ellen | 224 comments I'm glad you mentioned the Gauge War, Kathy. I had no idea about that aspect of railroad history, though it made perfect sense when reading Charity's description of it. I couldn't help making comparisons to the proliferation of library and other data "standards" that we are faced with in our work and that cause us a number of headaches. Luckily for us, the ramifications of this lack of standards and interoperability is nowhere close to being as severe as in the railroads situation!

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Rena: Thank you so much! That response to the book means a lot to me. I love fiction and poetry and plays and have worked at learning to write all of them; one of my goals was to make a reader who doesn't normally read dense history of this sort feel like it was just a riveting story. I tried to use techniques of fiction, although the book is 100% fact, backed up by footnotes. An example: the chapter where the train derails -- where people in the village see that it has -- is a very short, broken chapter. (Chapter 7.)

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Rena:
You also asked about other topics for future research/books. I am happy to say I have a few other ideas in mind these days...one of them will come into focus as my next project. I don't really talk about my ideas while they are brewing, but I look forward to presenting other subjects that intrigue me to readers. Stay tuned! :)

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Kath: Thank you! American railroads have a complicated, rich, fascinating history. It was thrilling to get the chance to learn as much as I could about it. I am so glad you feel you learned as well, in reading the book.

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Beth | 16 comments Charity:  This was really a fascinating book. I found it sadly apropos reading about men returning from war and how they and their communities were adjusting to life after war. 

While researching, did you meet any  relatives of victims who were unaware of the Horror and their ancestor's connection? 

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Beth: Thank you, and good question. Some of the families I met in my research had only vague ideas or bits of lore about what their ancestors had gone through in 1867. I was able also to show some people in Angola who live in or near sites connected with the wreck what had happened there, and that was the first they had heard of the wreck. Even in Angola, much of the story had vanished over the years. I was very humbled by that part of the work.

Ellen | 224 comments I found the illustrations from the media of the time fascinating. Who knew there was such a publication as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper? I should look that up to see how long that was published. And there were the sort of factual depictions, as well as the "emotion-laden" ones like on pages 115 and 201. That latter image of the young woman on the "Devouring Car Stove" is really interesting.

Charity--Do you have most of the Angola illustrations that existed in your book? Or were there a lot more and you had to figure out which ones to use?

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Becky | 140 comments Sorry for being late to chime in. I got a late start on the book and am only half way through. I heartily agree with all the comments. I am totally enjoying the book.
As Rena mentioned, I have someone very interested in the Civil War period in my house as well. I have heard some info about the time afterwards but your descriptions Charity, truly flesh that period out and make them real. One aspect that struck me was the "winter" colors that were prevalent in the day. Very bright by today's fashion trends. Black and grey are quite normal winter wear these days for women. I am not going to read ahead but am fearing the revelation of the casualties. You have done a good job of making the reader care about the characters.
All in all, a very good job, Charity. Looking forward to your next work!

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Hi Ellen: Frank Leslie's is definitely worth checking out! :) As to the illustrations of the wreck, there were not tons of them, and I tried to get as many into the book as I could, to sort of preserve them in the public memory....

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments Thank you so much Becky! I appreciate those nice words very much...:)

Ellen | 224 comments In honor of Charity's participation, we're going a little longer than usual this month. Keep adding comments through tomorrow, OK?

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Rena | 50 comments I'd just like to thank Charity for joining us in our discussion. Like Becky, I'm looking forward to your next book!

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments That is so kind. It was an honor to be asked to join in this discussion! Good luck with all your future reads! :)

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Charity Vogel | 11 comments And if anybody wants to reach out after the discussion ends, Ellen has my email address. Thanks again! It was a lot of fun...:)

Ellen | 224 comments Thank you so much, Charity, for your participation in our discussion! It definitely enhanced the experience for me. I enjoyed reading about this local historical incident in such a well-researched and written book.

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N (kaxxie) | 25 comments I'll add my voice to the thanks -- The Angola Horror was really a great and edifying read. It definitely inspires me to want to read more local history.

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