MICHIGAN HISTORY: The 1903 Circus Train Wreck in Durand
114 years ago this month…August 7, to be exact…a circus train wreck killed 23 people, two camels and one elephant… and injured many others.
What happened? The circus company traveled in two trains with a total of 70 cars; the head train was stationary on the tracks when the second train crashed into it at 15 miles per hour. It sounds as if it wasn’t fast enough to cause damage, but it sure did, killing most who were riding in the caboose. The engineer of the second train claimed the air brakes didn’t work while the railroad superintendent says the brakes wen’t applied at all, even though the first train had hung a red light in the back to signal them to stop.
According to an article in the 08-08-1903 edition of the New York Times:
“The dead, many of them so mangled that identification seemed well-nigh impossible, were carefully laid on the grass a short distance from the scene. By 6 o’clock a corps of twelve physicians was operating on the injured and dressing their wounds in the temporary hospital.”
The article continued on,
“Engineer Probst remained at his post, vainly trying to get the brake to work, until his train was less than a hundred feet of the section ahead. Then he, too jumped when he was within but a very seconds of sure death in the crash.”
You can visit the Lovejoy Cemetery in Durand and see the memorial monument for yourself; some of the names are getting hard to read but you can’t miss this monument. It’s on your left as you enter the cemetery.
It’s a little-known – and forgotten – piece of Michigan history that is worth seeking out if you take a short Michigan roadtrip…it’s not that far. And it’s never a bad idea to pay respects to past Michiganians.