A man, not less than an imaginary prince coming to rescue a wonderful girl in distress, has been a very common trope since the earliest days of theater. Mythical creatures were replaced by more humdrum dangers, mustachioed villains tying beautiful damsels to the railway tracks while a manly dashing hero arrives to save the day.
The origin of the idea
So where did this railway trope started from, and are there some real-life cases like this? To find the exact origin of this railway trope, we have to look back to the stage plays like Under the Gaslight by American. This play by Augustin Daly does contain such a scene, where a character named Snorkey is tied to the railway track by a man named Byke. In this play, there was a sort of reversal of the gender in the scene where a damsel named Laura rushed into Snorkey’s rescue.
Augustin Daly is credited for coming up with this sort of idea. But if you stick with theater and dig deeper, you will come up with a play called The Engineer, which had a similar scene. Nevertheless, Augustin Daly’s play had a terrific impact on the audience, and soon rival playwriters began including this railway scene in their plays. So that’s how the railway track trope got famous. But, did someone really tie a damsel in distress to the railway track? The answer turns out to be YES. According to some people, there have been instances of this happening.
For example – According to the 31 August 1874 issue of the New York Times, a gardener (identified as a Frenchman) was killed in exactly the same manner after being robbed. However, in this case, the gardener (Frenchman) was able to free himself partially, and as a result, the lower half of his left leg was severed.