Louise Gaffney Flannigan, born in 1867 and died in 1949, lived her whole life in New Haven, Connecticut. As the sister and wife of men who worked for the New Haven Railroad, she wrote flowery poems as odes to the courage and fortitude of railroad trainmen, and for good reason. Working for the railroad in the late 1800s was dangerous — this mode of transportation was still very new and laws regulating the railroads to ensure the safety of the workers were few. Many of the poems Louise wrote were memorials to the men who died on the job. Sadly, even her husband, Frank Flannigan, died in 1915 when he was hit by a train.
The Louise Gaffney Flannigan Papers, part of the Railroad History Archive here at the Dodd Research Center, is a very unique collection, quite unlike the typical railroad collection of timetables, track maps and photographs of locomotives and stations. Louise’s papers consist of her poems and writings, almost all about her admiration of her beloved trainmen and her despair when one falls while on duty. The poems tell us a lot about Louise herself, about her resilience and her humor. Despite her constant fear that another man will die while working for the railroad, she had a real respect for the trains, their power and their beauty.
Shown here is the first stanza of “A Brakeman’s Death,” undated but it must have been written before 1889. Louise writes “Whenever I pass near the railroad track, and see the trains pass by so fast, I love to wave to the jolly brakeman, seated on the cartops, as one by one they pass, Their eyes are ever on the alert, To see each bridge and dodge down low, They run quickly also to their brakes, Over cars covered with ice and snow.”
Hard work, indeed.
For more information about the Louise Gaffney Flannigan Papers, see the finding at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/findaids/flannigan/MSS20070066.html