Even unto death

There is a family story that is slowly becoming legend as the generations pass. When the mood turns nostalgic and sentimental at family gatherings, someone will inevitably tell the story of the Sages and the train.

The story tells how my great-great-great-grandparents, James Sage and Sally Hastings, died at the same moment on 8 March 1914, when they were struck by a train in Libertyville, Illinois. They were returning home from visiting their son, who had just dropped them off at the station. As the train arrived, they attempted to cross the tracks to the far platform, but did not succeed. It is not surprising that they were unable to make it quickly across the tracks, for they were elderly, 79 and 77. It is also not surprising that they attempted it, too, as James Sage had been foolish around a train at least once before, losing a foot some years earlier, also in a train accident.

My family jokes that they must have been destined to never be apart because the train was not their first brush with death. Years before, there had been a gas leak in their home one night and they only survived because their neighbors realized something was wrong and pulled them out. These events happened a few decades before my grandmother was born, and when the story is told we often think of the pain their death must have caused our great-great-grandfather, Thomas, and his siblings; even more often, when someone brings up the Sages and the train, we share a sigh about love and make morbid jokes about the fragility of life. Though a tragic accident, it is an interesting enough story to keep the memory of James and Sally alive amongst their descendants.

[When] someone brings up the Sages and the train, we share a sigh about love and make morbid jokes about the fragility of life.

When I began researching my genealogy, confirming this family legend was initially tricky, as I struggled to find any newspapers and records relating to the Sages and detailing the event. Unexpectedly, my research uncovered another set of great-great-great-grandparents, Henry Biere and Mamie Horseman, who both died on the same day in Gasconade, Missouri, and I wondered: is there another interesting story here?

I quickly found the answer, thanks to availability of Missouri death records online through the Missouri Digital Heritage site run by the state government. Henry and Mamie died of the flu (“la grippe”) within fifteen minutes of each other early in the morning on 21 March 1913. No drama, no shocking details, just a couple in their seventies succumbing to a common illness. I hope, though, that they, too, would not have wished to live one without the other.

About Catherine Gaggioli

Catherine is a researcher at NEHGS. She received her Bachelor’s of Arts in History from Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and went on to earn a Master's of Library and Information Science in Archives Management and a Master's of Arts in History from Simmons College. Prior to NEHGS, Catherine worked for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, where she scanned archival materials as a part of a large scale digitization project.

5 thoughts on “Even unto death

  1. I also have ancestors who were killed in a train accident. My 2x’s great grandparents, William and Lois McIntosh of Bethel, Vermont. Their horse and buggy were struck by the Chicago Express as they attempted to cross the tracks on their way to church on November 24, 1883. This was a story that had been passed down in my family and I was delighted to find several newspaper accounts when I began my genealogy research.

  2. My stepfather’s great great grandpa parents, Joseph and Katherine Lang Lill, Both died on the same day in 1889. A natural death. Sadly, when I research people in my family Tree who died on the same day, it turns out usually to be either a car accident, a murder suicide, or a fire.

  3. James and Sally were my husband’s great-grandparents. His mother’s father was Ed Sage. The train accident is part of family lore in that branch of the family also.

  4. not sure how I stumbled upon this but I am aware of this story. James & Sally are my Great Great grandparents. my father is Lyle E Sage , his father is George Sage & his father Thomas Sage was the son of James & my Great grandfather. Thomas by the way lived on Lincoln street in Libertyville and passed in his home in I believe 1933.

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