Saturday, June 22, 2013

June 22: Circus Train Disaster

On this date in HIstory ...., June 22, 1918:

photo courtesy of
A train engineer fell asleep and caused his 20-car military transport train to run into the caboose of a 26-car circus train that was stopped to check a problem near Hammond, Indiana. 

The collision split the first five circus train cars in half. The sleeping engineer had missed two automatic signals and warnings posted by the circus train brakeman. The investigation was very critical of the wooden cars, citing oil lamps that contributed to the deathly fire.

The circus only had to cancel two performances and made the rest of their engagements because competitors Ringling and Barnum and Bailey contributed needed equipment and performers so that the show could go on.

Most of the 86 who died perished inside of the first 35 seconds of the collision. Then the train cause fire and those who died by fire were burned beyond recognition and were buried in Showman’s Rest in Illinois, where many of the graves are marked with identifiers such as “Unknown Male”, “Unknown Female”, and even “4-Horse Driver”. Many performers were known only by their nickname and that is how the grave is marked, such as the one marked “Baldy June 22, 1918”.  

mass grave burial

Those who could not be identified were buried in a mass grave.

Monuments of elephants with lowered trunks, a sign of mourning, surrounds the burial site.

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