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Malia, Milton and Shea prevent a rail catastrophe

Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad covered bridge near 1925 Market over Bear Creek, Oakwood, Hannibal, Mo. Photo taken 1903 by Anna Schnitzlein. Bridge was razed 1905 and replaced by an iron bridge. The near miss rail disaster described in the accompanying story would have been at the location of this pictured bridge. Photo contributed by Archie Hayden


During the early morning hours of the last day of July, in the year 1917, the westbound Burlington fast passenger train Number 16, en route from Denver to St. Louis, was saved from a potential calamity by the efforts of two Hannibal police officers and a third man working as a member of the merchant police.

The location of the near miss was at an iron bridge crossing Bear Creek, south of Market Street, to the south of the home of the Schnitzlein family, who lived at 1925 Market.

The Hannibal police officers credited with averting a potential disaster were Morris Shea, assigned to the Oakwood beat for most of his 30+ year career, and Edward (Ted) Malia, who served on the Hannibal police department for 14 years. The merchant officer on duty that night was Charles Milton.

It was Charles Milton who first noticed something amiss on the railroad tracks that stretched through the Bear Creek bottoms. At 3:25 a.m., he noticed that a horse was on the tracks, one hoof apparently caught on the rail.

Armed with the knowledge that the Burlington passenger train was due to pass on this track momentarily, he immediately alerted Shea and Malia.

The Quincy Daily Herald described the scene in the same day’s edition:

“Shea immediately ran west on Market street and had presence of mind enough to grab a red lantern which was being used at an obstruction in the thoroughfare. He hurried to the bridge and, realizing that he did not have time enough in which to release the animal, as the passenger (train) was due within a few minutes, proceeded west along the railroad right of way.”

With no time to spare, Officer Malia contacted the Burlington railroad’s dispatcher, and the dispatcher, in turn, called the agent at the Palmyra junction using the company’s private telephone wire.

Unfortunately, the train had already passed the Palmyra junction, and was headed toward Hannibal. There was no way to alert the train crew in regard to the danger ahead.

Meanwhile, Shea, (a relative newcomer to the force) carrying that red lantern, kept running westward along the tracks for about a mile. Just east of the ball park, he heard the train coming.

“It soon flashed into view and the officer frantically waved the red lantern, attracting the attention of Engineer Lowe of Brookfield, who brought the train to a stand within a few hundred feet of the bridge.”

It took about 40 minutes to free the horse, which was caught in the ties between the rails.

“Passenger trains usually run at a rate of speed from 20 to 35 miles an hour over the bridge and the action of the policeman probably saved the train from a serious wreck,” the Quincy Daily Herald reported.

Morris Shea

Morris Shea served as Hannibal’s elected police chief during the last half of the 1930s; the remainder of his near four-decade career was dedicated to protecting the citizens and businesses along Market Street and in Oakwood.

Just before Christmas, 1947, Morris Shea was honored during an assembly in the auditorium of Hannibal’s Eugene Field School, and gifted with a pocket watch and a knife. The recognition was staged by a group of Market Street businessmen and students of Eugene Field Junior High School, in appreciation of his dedication to the neighborhood.

In April 1949, Shea was seriously injured in an attack by a man he found lying on the ground on the sidewalk outside of the West Side fire station.

When Shea bent over to touch the man, the man jumped, and hit Shea in the face, knocking the officer to the ground.

Officer Shea received a fractured right ankle, bruises on his shoulder and head and cuts on his face.

He retired during the mid 1950s, and died on June 14, 1957. He is buried at Holy Family Cemetery. He never married.

Edward Malia

“Teddy” Malia (as he was usually called) lived at the top of Union Street hill, and worked on the night shift for the Hannibal Police Department. On Christmas morning, December 1916, he worked his shift as usual, and when he arrived home, went out to his barn to perform some chores. He fell from the barn’s loft, striking his head upon impact with the ground, thus fracturing his skull. The Quincy Daily Journal reported on Dec. 27 that he was “resting as well as could be expected.”

The aforementioned train incident occurred just seven months later.

Teddy Malia resigned from the police force in 1924, after working there for 14 years. He died eight years later, in August 1932, at the age of 70. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, who died in 1923. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Charles Milton

Charles E. Milton had a long career with the Burlington Railroad, working for a number of years as a yard master in Palmyra, and as a brakeman for the Burlington. He retired from active rail service circa 1916, and was subsequently hired as a merchant policeman for the West Side. That was where he was working at the time of the aforementioned “near miss” rail event.

He died in August 1932, and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Palmyra. His widow, Julia Milton, was a member of the Palmyra Alumni Association.

His parents, George and Anna Milton, were Missouri pioneers, settling in Palmyra in 1831.

Charles E. Lowe

Railroading during its heyday was a dangerous business, with the crews assigned to the trains’ operation particularly vulnerable. While Charles Edward Lowe avoided the aforementioned potential train wreck, he wasn’t always so lucky.

Engineer Lowe was seriously injured near Callao, Missouri, in mid December 1905, when the Hannibal and St. Joe freight train of which he was engineer was involved in a derailment. The engine and three cars were thrown into a ditch following an accident caused by a defective frog in a switch. The fireman safely jumped from the engine as it was turning over. Early reports from the accident scene suggested that Lowe’s injuries might be fatal, but he was able to recover and ultimately return to work.

Then, in April 1923, he slipped and fell from his engine at Hamilton, Mo., fracturing his wrist.

Born and raised near Hannibal, Charles Lowe moved his family to Brookfield, where he lived until his death in June 1924. His survivors included his wife, Fannie; and one sister, Miss Lizzie Lowe, and a brother, John Lowe, both of Hannibal. Charles E. Lowe was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.

An advertisement from the Sept. 21, 1917 edition of the Shelbina Torchlight newspaper, promoting summer fares for cross country rail travel.

Morris Shea, pictured in the Jan. 1, 1942 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post. In 1917, he ran a mile in order to flag down and stop a fast passenger train, and by doing so, he prevented a potential rail catastrophe.

This 1892 Library of Congress map shows the path of the Burlington Route. The dotted line between the two circles shows the approximate route that the westbound fast Burlington passenger train No. 16 would have taken between Denver, circled at left, and St. Louis, circled at right, on July 31, 1917.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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