In 1876, Phil and Lucy Bliss and their two sons, ages one and three, celebrated Christmas at his parent's home in the tiny farm town of Rome, PA. Soon Phil was called back to Chicago on business, so they left the boys behind to enjoy an extended holiday. When they arrived in Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 29, Phil and Lucy boarded the Chicago-bound Pacific Express at 2 p.m. It left Buffalo an hour late and could only go 15 miles per hour because of a blinding snowstorm. As evening approached, the engine headlight threw a short dim flash into the darkening blizzard. Finally, at 7:45 p.m. the crowded train approached Ashtabula, Ohio. To reach the station, it had to cross a 200-foot-long wooden trestle over a ravine. The train slowed to ten miles per hour as it crept across the bridge in the blizzard. Then, according to another passenger, "Only the engine had passed over when the bridge collapsed. I heard a cracking sound in the front part of our carriage. Then another in the back; then a sickening sudden sinking. I was thrown from my seat, hearing splintering and smashing all around me. The train fell 70 feet down into the icy riverbed below. Within minutes, broken stoves and lamps set each car afire. Men who were strong enough escaped through windows into waist-deep icy water, and then tried to rescue their wives."
Phil Bliss was able to escape onto the ice, but his wife Lucy was trapped amid the tangled metal of broken seats. As flames engulfed the car, he realized she could not escape, so he climbed back inside to comfort her. Their remains were never found.
So who was Phillip Bliss? He was one of the most famous Christian song writers in history. For 12 years, he wrote hymns which cheered hearts around the world and are still sung today. Maybe you remember "Let the Lower Lights be Burning" or "Dare to be a Daniel" or "Almost Persuaded" or "It is Well with my Soul." As America mourned his death, memorial services were held from coast to coast. At a service in Chicago, the church was filled with 8,000 mourners. Four-thousand more were turned away, but refused to leave, standing outside the church in silent respect.
Before boarding the Pacific Express, Phil checked his luggage ahead. It arrived in Chicago on another train the next day. When friends opened his suitcase, they found a draft copy of the last hymn he wrote. It begins, "I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes -- So on I go, not knowing. I would not if I might. I'd rather walk by faith with God, than walk alone by sight."
Would you like to hear one of Philip Bliss's most popular hymns sung by children? Here's the link. https://www.youtube.com/