The Hammond Wreck
June 22, 1918 - Early in the morning on this day, an engineer on a troop transport train fell asleep and rammed his engine through a circus train that had stopped on the tracks. 86 people died and another 127 were injured.
The accident near Hammond, Indiana was one of the worst circus train disasters in history. The engineer who shouldered the blame for the tragedy was a longtime railroad engineer named Alonzo Sargent. Shortly after the accident he offered this account:
Before reaching the next signal I dozed on account of heat in cab and missed it. Not realizing what had happened to me until within 75 to 90 feet, I awoke suddenly and saw the tail or marker lights showing red on a train directly ahead of me. Not realizing that the rear end of this train was so close I started to make a service application, but before completing it placed brake-valve handle into emergency position. We struck almost instantly after making the brake application. Don't know whether I closed the throttle or not, but think I did. Looked to see where the fireman was and saw he was running toward the gangway. Did not see a fusee, hear a torpedo, or see any other warning signal up to the time I saw the red tail lights. Wreck happened at about 4.05 a.m., June 22, and I stayed there for an hour or more assisting in getting people one of the wreckage. I have been in the service of the Michigan Central Railroad Co. for approximately 28 or 29 years, the last 16 of which I have been continuously employed as an engineer. I am in perfect physical condition, as well as mental condition, and have had no illness within 25 or 30 years requiring the service of a doctor. There was nothing defective about the air brakes or other mechanism of the engine or train that I was operating, nor was there any defective condition of any of the signals or track upon which I was operating to the best of my knowledge. The accident was due solely to the fact that I accidentally fell asleep, and I had no intent to injure any person, nor was same done with malice, but solely through an accident, as aforesaid.
The crash claimed the lives of many of the stars in the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, including the Great Dierckx Brothers, a strongman act, and Jennie Ward Todd of The Flying Wards. Most of the victims were burned beyond recognition and they were buried in Showmen's Rest, a special section of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.