Chatsworth, IL Train Wreck, Aug 1887
There are loud complaints regarding robberies of the bodies, but the ghoulism appears to have been the work of a gang of pickpockets who were on the train for the purpose of plunder. The residents of Chatsworth and certainly not guilty of it. They, especially the women, have acted nobly. DR. SHINN, of Chenoa, surgeon on this division of the Peoria and Western, and DR. BALLARD, of the same place, who were the first doctors on the scene, have not since closed their eyes. They say that they expect to be able to move all patients in the Town Hall to Peoria to-day, except MISS VALDEJO and MRS. CLARK, of Ohio, who will probably die in the next twenty-four hours.
One of the bodies in the depot was recognized this morning as JOHN ZELLKER, of Pekin.
CAUSE OF THE DISASTER.
Indirectly the catastrophe was ascribed to the origin of so many other recent great calamities. Owing to the unprecedented drouth[sic], the tall grass under a little culvert on the Toledo, Peoria and Western, a few miles east of Chatsworth, had been rendered by the sun as dry as tinder, and a locomotive spark set it ablaze. The timbers of the culvert caught fire and were smouldering unseen when a train of sixteen coaches of excursionists from Peoria and Bloomington and neighboring cities approached. There was a terrific crash and an accident almost unprecedented in horror had passed into history. That was the brief story quickly gleaned on the streets of Chatsworth last evening. A short ride brought one from the sickening sights of the city to the place where the catastrophe occurred. It was a wild scene at the wreck in the driving darkness. The tangled iron and wood and the various debris presented much and the same appearance it did at the time of the accident. The engine, shattered out of all shape, lay in the ditch about 200 feet beyond the culvert, and the broken cars were strewn all over the track. The culvert, which was about thirty-two feet in length, showed broken and burned timbers and gave evidence of the cause of the accident. The little ditch which the culvert spanned was about ten foot deep and the timbers had been burned away by the fires which have been raging in this vicinity. The heavily laden train rushing down a grade of about forty-eight feet to the mile struck the culvert. The eye of the engineer could not detect the burned frame work beneath the straight track, because enough of the culvert remained to hold the rails in position, but as the wheels touched it the crash came. The rapidity with which the train was going may be imagined when it is understood that the first engine leaped over the chasm and, holding the track, went on but little injured.
The second engine plowed its way along the track for nearly 200 feet and finally went out over on its side a most complete wreck. Piling on top of and dovetailing one another came the regular passenger coaches, with their loads of human freight, and such a mass, such an indescribable, tangled mass of splintered cars and mangled bodies. All night long and all day the sad work of removing the dead and wounded occupied the good people of the vicinity and the many helpers who came from adjacent cities. At 9 o'clock last evening, when the Associated Press correspondent left the scene of the wreck, it was estimated that all but six or seven bodies had been removed. The only man on the wrecked train who lingered at the scene until to-night, unharmed, was the porter of the only Pullman car that was damaged. It was the foremost of the string of six sleepers attached to the end of the train. The tenth coach was a total wreck, as was all its predecessors, but the sleeper stopped with its forward end over the burning bridge. The colored boy's story was about as accurate an account as could be gotten out of any of the passengers on the ill fated train.
"I was awake," he began, " when we crossed the Illinois Central tracks at Chatsworth and pulled up to the station. There was a large crowd at the depot, a number of them being people from Piper Station to the next station east of Chatsworth. It had been announced that the train would not stop at Piper City, and excursionists who wanted to take the train had to come down on the evening train, as well as by wagon, to Chatsworth to do so. Jolly farewells were shouted to the departing friends by those at the depot and little did their joyful anticipation suggest their dreadful end. We pulled away and I went inside my car again. All the passengers were asleep but two. They had all stayed up late singing and making fun, as they seemed to know one another so well, but as I said when we left Chatsworth, they were all asleep but two. It was 11:30 o'clock and the train had been sailing along at about thirty miles an hour when we reached the top of the hill about two miles beyond. At the top of this grade there is a turnpike crossing and I remember the engineers whistling for it as is the custom. Then down the grade we went with a dash. A moment later came the crash, everybody was shaken violently, and many of those in our car more of less bruised. It was simply an awful jerk, a lunge and then an abrupt slip and we were standing still. When we in the car looked out we were so awe stricken that we could not tell what to do. Our car was afire in front and all efforts were directed to extinguishing the flames, but the people in the sleepers behind us were not so roughly handled as we, and they came to our rescue and hustled out as many as were able to work to help those in the coaches ahead. It was dark as pitch and the cars were heaped up so promiscuously that we couldn't get at them at all. The awful groaning of the wounded, the sight of the dead and the terror of the whole thing was more than I could stand.
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