Monday, 25 February 2013

Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. The Hammond train wreck

In the early morning hours of June 22, 1918, Alonzo Sargent was operating a Michigan Central Railroad troop train' pulling 20 empty Pullman cars. He was aware that his train was closely following a slower circus train. Sargent, had slept little if at all in the preceding twenty-four hours. and the effects of a lack of sleep, several heavy meals, some kidney pills, and the gentle rolling of his locomotive are thought to have caused him to fall asleep at the controls.
At approximately 4:00 am, he missed at least two automatic signals and warnings posted by a brakeman of the 26-car circus train, which had made an emergency stop to check a hot box on one of the flatcars. The second train plowed into the caboose and four rear wooden sleeping cars of the circus train at a rail crossing known as Ivanhoe Interlocking (5½ miles east of Hammond, Indiana) at an estimated speed of 35 miles per hour.
The circus train held 400 performers and roustabouts of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Most of the 86 who were killed in the train wreck perished in the first 35 seconds after the collision. Then, the wreckage caught on fire. Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the 'Great Dierckx Brothers', a strongman act, and Jennie Ward Todd of 'The Flying Wards'. There were also 127 injuries.
Following the wreck, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus cancel only two performances: the one in Hammond, Indiana and its next stop Monroe, Wisconsin. This was due partly by the assistance by many of its so-called competitors, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus lending needed equipment and performers so that the show could go on. The city of Hammond also joined in to help the surviving circus performers and workers. Many of the city’s residents and shopkeepers gave food and clothing.
Services were held five days after the train wreck. A 750 plot section of Woodlawn Cemetery (Forest Park, Illinois) is where a mass grave of 56 (or perhaps 61) employees of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were interred.The identity of many victims of the wreck was unknown. Most of the markers note “unidentified male” (or female). One is marked “Smiley,” another “Baldy,” and “4 Horse Driver.”

Statues of five elephants surround the Showmen’s Rest section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. The elephants each have a foot raised with a ball underneath, and the trunks lowered. (Raised trunks are a symbol of joy and excitement; lowered trunks symbolize mourning). The base of the large central elephant is inscribed with “Showmen’s League of America”. On the others are the words “Showmen’s Rest”. Some nearby residents say the sounds of ghostly elephants can be heard at night. However, as a note, there were no elephants that were buried there. And for those looking for an explanation for the sounds, Brookfield Zoo is only a few miles away.

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