The Pavloff Family Tragedy

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y., (Oakwood Cemetery) -  They stand like seven little soldiers silently guarding the souls beneath them.  The stones bear witness to a tragedy that took place over 80 years ago. 

For those that may not know, Sugar Street is now Hyde Park Boulevard.  The crossing would be near Hyde Park and Buffalo Avenue.  The city was stunned by the accident.  A father (the driver and only survior) is released from the hospital to attend the funeral of his 6 children and his wife. The newpaper account from the Niagara Falls Gazette (the name of the paper at the time) is so compelling that it stands on it's own:

Niagara Falls Gazette Friday July 8, 1927





Plan to Bury Mother and Older Son in Consecrated Ground and

Other Children in Unconsecrated Ground Is Objected to by Father

The bodies of Mrs. Mary Pavloff and her six children killed in the Sugar Street grade crossing accident Monday night were placed in a vault at Oakwood Cemetery following funeral services today.

It was intended to bury all the deceased members of the family in the same plot in Holy Trinity Cemetery on the Lewiston Road.  The bodies of the mother and two older sons were to have been consigned to consecrated ground and those of the other four children were to have been buried in unconsecrated ground.

When the funeral cortege arrived at the cemetery the father and the older of the two surviving sons refused to allow the burial unless the graves of members of the family were consecrated.  This was refused by the Rev. John Sliwlinski, of the Holy Trinity Church.  The burial was halted and the funeral procession reformed and proceeded to Oakwood Cemetery where the bodies were placed in the vault temporarily.

Hundreds at Funeral

The funeral of the mother and the little victims of the tragedy that has stirred the community to deep sorrow was held this morning.  Hundreds filled the Cobler Funeral Home and congregated before it in Main Street long before 3:30 a.m., the hour set for the beginning of the services.  The seven sombre -hued hearses drawn up in line at the curb attracted the morbid interest of the crowd.

Heading the little group of mourners within the funeral home was Samuel Pavloff, the husband and father and the only occupant of the the death car to escape with his life when it was ground beneath the heavy trucks of a fast New York Central passenger train on the Sugar Street crossing Monday night.  Near him were the t wo older sons of the mother by a former marriage, John and Martin Adams.  Relatives of Mrs. Pavloff were the other members of the group.

Services for Younger Children

The Rev. Albert S. Bacon of the First Presbyterian Church conducted the services for the four younger victims of the tragedy at the funeral home.  With sympathy and consoling spirit he referred to the tragedy that had cut short the lives of the mother and her little ones.  Tears dimmed the eyes of many during his sermon.

Members of t he Plumbers' union, of which Samuel Pavloff, the father and husband, is a member,  acted as bearers for Mrs. Pavloff.  Eight young friends of Johnand Martin,-the older sons,  alternated in groups of four each in carrying the caskets containing the bodies of the six little victims fromthe funeral home to the waiting hearses.

A Stricken Father

Showing the effects of his injuries and the terrific strain under which he has been since the tragedy wiped out his family, Samuel Pavloff stood at the door of the home and directed the undertakers in what order the caskets should be taken.  The mother's body, concealed in the casket of gray, came first. The faint summer breeze stirred the blossoms of a single spray of flowers that rested on it as the s ix men reverently bore the casket to the hearse.

The tinywhite c ask et of the family's baby, Karl, threeyearsold, next w as carried d own the steps.  A little spray of yellow blossoms reposed on t he cover just above where the baby face lay underneath.  The buds, stirred by the light breeze, seemed to convey a message of joy and contentment from the baby form within.  Next came the casket containing the body of Walter, the second youngest boy, and the casket containing the body of Margaret, the only girl of thefamily was the fourth.

The caskets of the other three children were borne to the waiting hearses in the order of their age.

Pathetic Scene

As the last casket was carried out and the doors of the hearse gently closed upon it, Pavloff appeared in the doorway of the building. He seemed unconscious of the crowds that filled the street. With faltering steps he descended the stairs and walked through the narrow lane of spectators to the curb.  Then he glanced after the last hearse as it trundled across the pavement into Park Place and took its position in line.  For several seconds he stood in the middle of the street oblivious of the warning blasts of auto horns and the clanging .of trolley car gongs. Clasping and unclasping his hands he moaned, looking helplessly from right, to left, and then followed the last hearse on foot.

Friends ran after him and tried to take his arm; but he shook them off and continued following the hearse. He remained standing near the hearses until the mourners' machine in which his stepsons were seated drew up behind them when he was induced to enter it.

The two surviving sons of the family were sorrowful and pitiable figures.  Clean cut and clear skinned, they walked with heads bowed and their bodies shaken by sobs as they came from the funeral home to the automobile that waited to carry them to the church.  The grief of t he older boy, John, was poignant.  His younger brother and a male relative tried to console him as they led him to the mourners’ car.

Pall of Sorrow Over Throngs

The funeral cortege, with it’s seven hearses, cast a pall over the throngs that filled the streets through which it passed.  More than two thousand persons were congregated before the Holy Trinity Church at East Falls and Fourteenth Street when the procession arrived there.  Patrolman held the crowds in check as the cortege moved to the church doors.  Within the church a large congregation awaited the arrival of the funeral.

The caskets containing the bodies of Mrs. Pavloff, Andrew and Michael were carried into the church where a brief service of blessing the bodies was conducted. The requiem mass will be said at a later date.  The Rev. John Sliwinski conducted the services.  Pavloff accompanied the bodies, to the church doors and as they were carried up the broad aisle to before the altar, he turned and descended the steps and took up a position near the other four hearses which contained the bodies of his younger children.  He remained as if on guard until the services in the church were completed.

Son Near Collapse

Collapse threatened the oldest son, John, as he came from the church in the wake of the caskets in which the bodies of his mother and two brothers were borne.  H is form wavered as he started down the steps and he slumped limply and would have fallen had not his younger brother, Martin, and a relative caught him.  They were compelled to almost carry him to the automobile. The line of automobiles that followed the bodies of the victims of the tragedy to their last resting place numbered 25 or more.  Many who did not attend the services at the funeral home joined the funeral process ion at the church.

Kissed Silent Lips

Pavloff w as released from. Mount St. Mary 's hospital last night that he might have his last view of his family who lost their lives in the accident and attend the funeral services.  He visited the funeral home last night.  Calling each by name he kissed his wife and the six children and was led weeping from the biers.  He is expected to return to the hospital late today as he has not been discharged.

Thousands have viewed the bodies at the funeral home.  It is estimated that more than 1.000 persons visited the home last night.

Niagara Falls Gazette Saturday July 9, 1927



Service at the Cemetery to Be Conducted by the Rev. A. S. Bacon at 2:30 O'clock Monday Afternoon;

Will Rest in Adjoining Graves, as Surviving Father Wished.

Burial services for Mrs. Mary Pavloff and her six children, victims of the Sugar Street grade crossing tragedy, which were halted at Holy Trinity cemetery yesterday, will take place Monday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock in Oakwood cemetery.  The Rev. Albert S. Bacon, of the First Presbyterian church, will officiate.  The bodies of the mother and six children will be interred in the one plot.

Funeral services for the mother and her children were conducted yesterday at the Cobler funeral home,  Main street, and at Holy Trinity church, East Falls and Fourteenth street.  The Rev. Mr. Bacon conducted the services for the four younger children at the funeral home while the services for the mother and the two older boys killed in the accident were conducted at the church. It was intended to conduct the burial services and inter the bodies in Holy Trinity cemetery but at the last moment the burial was stopped by Samuel Pavloff, husband and father and the only occupant of t he family automobile to escape death when it was struck by a New York passenger train on the Sugar street crossing Monday night.  Martin Adams, Mrs. Pavloff’s son by a former marriage, today explained the reason for deferring the burial.

He said that he, his older brother, John Adams, and his step father understood that the bodies of his mother and all six children were to have been buried in the same plot in Holy Trinity but upon arrival at the cemetery it was found that three of the graves, those for Mrs. Pavloff and the two older boys, had been excavated in the consecrated section of the cemetery and - those of the four younger children in the unconsecrated part, some distance apart.

Mr. Pavloff and his step son, Martin Adams, today explained that they made arrangements yesterday morning whereby the seven bodies were to be buried in adjoining graves, three to be in consecrated ground and four in unconsecrated ground, but that when they arrived at the cemetery they found that the graves dug were not adjoining, but that those for the four younger children were some distance away from those of the mother and two older children.  It was this separation of the graves that caused the father and step-son s, Mr. Pavloff said today, to halt the burial and have the bodies taken to the vault at Oakwood.  Mr. Pavloff and his step-s on started today that they had not objected to the plan of having three bodies buried in consecrated ground and the other four in unconsecrated ground.  Pavloff and his step-sons refused to permit the burial under those conditions, and the bodies were taken to the vault in Oakwood cemetery, where they were placed temporarily until other arrangements for the burial could be made.  Released from Mount St. Mary's hospital to view the bodies of his wife and children and to attend the funeral services, Pavloff did not return to the hospital last night.  His step - son said today that Pavloff would remain at home under care of a physician. He is still suffering from injuries sustained in the accident.

Niagara Falls Gazette Saturday July 28, 1927


Closes Inquiry in Pavloff Tragedy; Witness Says Train Moving Only 30 Miles an Hour. 

Dr. Harry R. Emes, Coroner, last night completed taking testimony in the inquest into the deaths of Mrs. Mary Pavloff and her six children, killed when their automobile was struck by a New York Central passenger train on the Sugar Street grade crossing on July 4.  Frederick K. Coulson International Bus Line driver, who resides at 425 Parkdale Avenue, Buffalo, was the only witness examined at the resumed session of the inquest.  Following the taking of his testimony Coroner Emes reserved decision. Coulson testified he was driving one of the international buses west on Buffalo Avenue on the night of July 4 and at 7:55 p.m. a New York Central passenger train, westbound passed the bus just west of the old Echota station.  The bus was making 20 miles an hour.  

“The train was estimated,” Coulson testified, “making 30 miles an hour.  The locomotive, whistled for the Sugar street crossing and that attracted my attention.  The whistle blew so incessantly that I knew there must be something wrong.  Then I noticed the grinding of brakes on the train.  When I looked I saw an automobile taking the Sugar street crossing.”

“I saw the train hit the rear end of the auto,” Coulson’s testimony continued, “breaking it up and knocking it into the air.  The car and its occupants were knocked on the other side of the train from me, and I did not see any of the victims hit the ground.  I did not stop, because there was so much motor traffic and many cars were stopping, but proceeded to the Falls terminal of the bus line." 

Corrine Squires, a great grand daughter of Mary Pavloff has graciously donated a photo of the Pavloff family lying in the Cobler Funeral Home.  The accident touched many Niagara Falls residents at the time, and still affects many to this day.  This picture underscores the reality of such an event.  Please do not click on it if you are disturbed by such scenes.

Mary Pavloff 38, Andrew 16, Michael 11, Theodore 9, Margaret 7, Walter 5, Carl 3

Mary Pavloff 38, Andrew 16, Michael 11, Theodore 9, Margaret 7, Walter 5, Carl 3

Mary Pavloff 38, Andrew 16, Michael 11, Theodore 9, Margaret 7, Walter 5, Carl 3