A conductor so good, they gave him two sleepers.
Was J.T. Castleman really a superstar Pullman sleeper conductor? Well, history remains mute on that subject, but he was definitely the man in charge of the train’s two rear sleeper cars, “Toboco” and “Calmar”.1 As with all the Pullman employees, Norfolk & Western did not record any information about Castleman other than his first and middle initials. Both of the sleepers under his charge were destined for Washington, DC, which leads to an interesting possible clue to Castleman’s identity. The 1889 city directory for Washington, DC, lists a conductor named James T. Castleman living at 3415 Prospect Avenue NW.2
There were several other Castleman family members listed at that address in the directory, and that information could help in determining whether James T. Castleman on Prospect Avenue was the same as the J.T. Castleman listed by Norfolk & Western in its report. In addition to James, Henry B. Castleman (also listed as a conductor), Stephen D. Castleman Sr., and Stephen D. Castleman Jr. all resided at the same address.
The patriarch of that Castleman family on Prospect Avenue was Stephen D. Castleman Sr., and he would only live for three months after the wreck at Thaxton. An obituary for the elder Castleman was printed in the October 25 edition of The Evening Star in Washington, DC. In that obituary, Stephen’s death was reported as October 23, and his funeral was to take place at his home, which just happened to be at 3415 Prospect Avenue. He was a mail contractor, born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1819. An important detail was the burial site printed in the paper, Oak Hill Cemetery in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC.3
According to the Oak Hill Cemetery burial records, Stephen Castleman Sr. is interred in Lot 98. Joining him in that final resting place are several other familiar names from that 1889 city directory. Stephen Jr., Henry B., and one James T. Castleman were all settled to rest there in Lot 98. The burial date recorded for James T. Castleman was November 9, 1912, and his age was recorded as sixty-five years, nine months, and ten days.4
Apparently, James was living at 35 Laurel Street in Somerville, Massachusetts at the time of his death and worked there as a clerk. This was recorded on his death certificate which also listed his father, Stephen D. Castleman, and his mother, Jane Cookedonfer(Cookendorfer). His mother is also buried in Lot 98 in the Oak Hill Cemetery. The death certificate confirms the burial location for James T. Castleman as Oak Hill Cemetery, and his age matches exactly with the age listed in the cemetery’s records.5 The cause of death was listed as Locomotor Ataxia, which was apparently a disorder of the nervous system brought on by syphilis.
All of these details tell us a few things about the life of James T. Castleman, who worked as a conductor and resided at 3415 Prospect Ave NW in Washington, DC, the year of the train wreck at Thaxton. Unfortunately, those facts don’t tell us if that is the same person that was working on the train recorded as J.T. Castleman by N&W. The initials match, and his sleeper cars were headed to our nation’s capital, but not enough information was available to confirm that the Castleman on Prospect Avenue was even a conductor for the Pullman Company. The Pullman Company Archives held by The Newberry Library in Chicago contained no record for Castleman, but that was not out of the ordinary since a bulk of the employee records were not available from the period prior to the 1920s. Based on the directories in the terminus cities for the two sleepers, the strongest candidate seems to be James T. Castleman in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, Norfolk & Western did not record a hometown for Castleman and this means his identity is not certain.
Do you think you know who the J. T. Castleman was on the train that night? If you think he might have been an ancestor of yours, or if you have some additional information that might help identify him, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!
- Fourteenth Annual Report of The Railroad Commissioner of the State of Virginia, J.H. O’Bannon Superintendent of Public Printing, Richmond, VA, 1890: p. xlv. http://books.google.com/books?id=CFopAAAAYAAJ
- William H. Boyd, Directory of the District of Columbia, 1889, p. 275.
- “Georgetown”, The Evening Star (Washington D.C.), October 25, 1889, Vol. 75, No. 14,066: p.3. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1889-10-25/ed-1/seq-3/
- “Oak Hill Cemetery Burial Records Index — C,” Oak Hill Cemetery, accessed August 3, 2013, http://www.oakhillcemeterydc.org/Burials/caden.html.
- “District of Columbia Deaths and Burials, 1840-1964,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F7Y8-Y6P : accessed 04 Aug 2013), James T. Castleman, 04 Nov 1912.