Rail Chief Cries Over Bill for Train-Mangled Girl: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America" by Richard White. Source: Norton via Bloomberg

Railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington was traveling in his private car along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe tracks when the train plowed into a young girl. When he saw that her right leg had been “cut off and mashed above the knee,” Huntington offered to pay for treatment.

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The victim, Johanna Grogan, worked at a hotel in Baring, Missouri, for $2 a week, and gave most of her earnings to her parents, who lived nearby with their 10 children.

Back at the station, Dr. J.G. Welch examined her, and then she was taken to a hotel, where other doctors were called in and more of her leg was amputated. The railroad surgeon also paid visits to the patient. In the end, Johanna died.

All the doctors submitted bills, totaling $486, and with the hotel bill of $76 and the $60 to bury her, the total came to $622. Huntington regarded that as “outrageous,” and felt he was the real victim of the accident. By railroad standards, these were insignificant amounts, yet instead of paying, he sent in the lawyers.

I spoke with Richard White, author of “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America,” on the following topics:

1. Corruption and Failure

2. Government Subsidies

3. “Destroy When Read”

4. Quasi-Ponzi Schemes

5. Animosity Toward Corporations

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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