Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Great Crash at Crush -- September 15, 2021

Kansas City Daily Journal, 16-September-1896

125 years ago today, on 15-September-1896, at the town of Crush, Texas, which existed for one day, two trains of the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad had a head-on collision, on purpose. William G Crush, appropriate name, was a passenger agent for the railroad. He had the idea, inspired by an earlier demonstration in Ohio, that the railroad would gain publicity and make money by staging a crash for people to view. The railroad made money by selling excursion tickets. The collision of the two locomotives, each pulling six boxcars loaded with railroad ties, resulted in both boilers exploding and sent debris flying towards the audience. Two people were killed and at least six were badly wounded. A photographer lost an eye. The Katy fired Crush, but hired him back the next day. Other people staged collisions, but kept the spectators farther away.

Great ragtime composer Scott Joplin wrote a march about the crash. 

A Planned Collision In Texas Injures
Nine Spectators.

Waco, Tex., Sept. 15. -- The prearranged collision, which has been so extensively advertised, took place to-day at Crush, Tex., fourteen miles north of this place, on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railway.

There were six cars behind each engine and the, wreck of both engines, as well as seven cars, was complete. Nine of the spectators were badly injured by falling wreckage, two probably fatally. It is estimated 50,000 people witnessed the collision.

Daily Ardmoreite, 16-September-1896

The Katy Head-Ender Witnessed
Yesterday by Thirty Thousand People
Several Persons Injured.

The big head-end collision on the Katy came off yesterday as per schedule, and was witnessed by 30,000 people. The wreck was complete, both boilers exploding, and resulting in nine persons being injured by flying missiles, two or three of whom are seriously if not fatally wounded. The Dallas News gives a detailed account of the affair in graphic style, from which we cull the following. After describing the gathering of the crowd, the News says:

"Four o'clock, the hour scheduled for the collision, came along, but all the specials had not arrived, and a postponement of one hour was inevitable. At 5 o'clock the two trains met at the point of collision and were photographed.

Then one of the trains backed up the hill on the north and the other one up the hill on the south. Everything was now ready. The smoke was pouring from their funnels in a great black streak, and the popping of the steam could be distinctly heard for the distance of a mile. People were standing on tiptoe, from every point of vantage, trying to see every movement of the wheels that were soon to roll to destruction. The officials of the road were grouped about a little telegraph office not fifty feet from the place of contact with watches in hand, waiting for the whistle which would tell them that the trains were ready to start on the fatal journey. At 10 minutes after 5 Crush raised his hat and a great cheer went up from the throats of all the people.

The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing nearer and more distinct with each fleeting second, was like the gathering force of a cyclone. Nearer and nearer they came, the whistles of each blowing repeatedly, and the torpedos which had been placed on the track exploding in almost a continuous round like the rattle of musketry. Every eye was strained and every nerve on edge. They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed to within a quarter of a mile of each other. Nearer and nearer, as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder, and hundreds who had come miles to see found their hearts growing faint within them, and were compelled to turn away from tne awful spectacle.

Now they were within ten feet of each other, the bright red and green paint on the engines and the gaudy advertisements on the cars showing clear and distinct in the glaring sun.

A crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters.

There was just a swift instance of silence, and then as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missles of iron and steel, varying in size from a postage stamp to half a driving wheel, falling indiscriminately on the just and unjust, the rich and the poor, the great and the small.

The wonder was that there was not more broken heads and bleeding hearts. How so many escaped is little short of miraculous.

On the photographer's stand, not more than 100 feet from the track, which experience has shown was dangerously near, were grouped the photographers, the reporters of the News, and several railroad officials. Here the shower was particularly strong, and one of the photographers, Mr. Dean of Waco, will lose one of his eyes as the result of a sudden meeting with a small piece of flying steel.

When those nearest the scene had time to collect their faculties and look about them, all that remained of the two engines and the twelve cars was a smoking mass of fractured metal and kindling wood, except one car on the rear of each train, which had been left untouched.

The engines had both been completely telescoped, and contrary to experience in such cases, instead of rising in the air from the force of the blow, were just flattened out. There was nothing about the cars big enough to save except pieces of wood, which were eagerly seized upon and carried home as souvenirs.

It took the great crowd at least a minute to realize what had happened, and then with a united yell they scrambled over the dead line, through the brush, tearing down barbed wire fences and knocking down wooden ones in a wild attempt to get to the smoking heap of debris. That the ruin was so complete they could not at first believe. It was only after they had thoroughly investigated the situation that they comprehended in full the breadth and scope of what they had seen and then began the relic-hunting phase of it. Everything that could be carried away was laid hold of, and it would be safe to say that of the 30,000 on the grounds 25,000 of them are saving souvenirs of their excit ing day's adventure.

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