Alton, IL Train Wreck and Explosion, Jan 1893

Burning Oil Explodes.

9 Killed, 12 Fatally Burned, Nearly 100 Injured.

The Catastrophe Followed a Bad Wreck on the Big Four-The Victims Were Watching Cars Burn When a Tank Car Exploded.

Alton, Ill., Jan. 21.-Nine persons killed outright, twelve fatally injured, and nearly a hundred more or less seriously injured is the appalling result of a series of accidents at Alton Junction today.

An open switch on the Big Four main track was the cause of the disaster.

A Southern Limited ran through the switch into a freight train standing on the siding, and Engineer WEBB ROSS of the Limited was instantly killed.

The wreck took fire, and, while a great crowd was watching the spectacle, an oil tank car exploded with terrible force, enveloping the spectators in a sheet of burning oil.

Nine of them were instantly killed, and scores of them were frightfully burned, a dozen of whom at least, will die.

Killed
Engineer WEBB ROSS
HIRAM CORNELIUS, student of Shurtliffe College, from Iowa.
EDWARD MILLER, of Alton Junction.
Six other bodies not yet identified and burnt to a crisp.

Fatally Injured
OTTA HAGARMAN, Alton Junction.
WILLIE MCCARTHY, boy, Alton.
EDWARD MAUPHIN, St. Charles, Mo.
GEORGE STAPLES, boy, Alton.
JOHN SUTTRELL, Alton.
JOSEPH HERRMANN, Alton.
JOHN WILLIAMS, Alton.
JOHN FRITZ, Edwardsville Crossing.
FRANK BARTEL, Stamford, Canada.
A. FRAZER, San Francisco.
LEWIS M’INTOSH, Alton.
WILLIAM M’INTOSH, Alton.

Severely Injured
E.M. CALDWELL, Alton.
HENRY PILGRIM, Alton.
NATHAN RICHARDSON, Alton.
HENRY PRINEY, Alton.
CHARLES HARRIS, Alton.
JOHN HENRY, Alton.
JOHN SACK, Alton.
PATRICK O’MEAR, Alton.
JOHN ZIEGLER, Alton.
JAMES MONTGOMERY, Upper Alton.
JAMES N. MURRAY, Upper Alton.
----- MONOGHAN.

There are besides not less than seventy people more or less severely scalded who will be laid up for weeks.

Alton Junction or Wann, is two miles east of this city, and is a watering, transfer and feeding station for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads.

The latter road joins the Big Four at this point, running into St. Louis over the same track.

The fast through train, known as the Southwestern Limited, was coming out of St. Louis at 9 o’clock this morning thirteen minutes late, and making up lost time at a forty-seven-mile-an-hour speed, when it ran into a switch and collided with a long freight train consisting mostly of loaded tank cars.

Engineer WEBB ROSS of Mattoon, saw the danger too late, but he threw on the air brake and staid (sic) with his machine, being buried in the wreck and burned to a crisp. Fireman WHITE jumped and escaped uninjured. The passengers were fearfully shaken up, but none was seriously hurt.

An eyewitness of the collision says that the shock was such as to split two loaded tanks wide open, and the oil immediately caught fire, the flames shooting fifty feet into the air.

The locomotive and baggage car were totally wrecked, but the remainder of the passenger train was removed beyond the reach of the flames. In an incredibly short time the freight train was a mass of flames.

Fear of an explosion prevented any attempt to save it. The wrecking train came up from East St. Louis at 11 o’clock, but could do little and half a dozen switch engines were run out from here to clear the yards. Traffic on the two roads was entirely suspended and a special train was made up on the Chicago and Alton to carry belated passengers through to St. Louis. Hearing of the wreck hundreds of people from this city and vicinity were attracted by curiosity to the scene.

And then occurred on of the most awful disasters on record. A few minutes past 12 o’clock there was a slight explosion of one tank, which scattered the debris on all sides, setting fire to the stockyard’s inclosures (sic).This produced the impression that the danger of explosions was past, and the throng of bystanders rushed in to save the stockyards from destruction.

A minute later there was a deafening report that shook the earth for one minute and spread one sheet of seething, burning oil in all directions.

For those within the circle of 100 yards there was no escape. Their clothing was burned and literally fell from their bodies. In a moment those who were not disabled began running hither and thither, waving their hands and screaming for help.

Some went to the nearest water and others ran into the fields and are missing yet. Panic reigned for a short time, until the uninjured recovered there presence of mind to care for the afflicted.

Two barrels of linseed oil were taken from a grocery store and applied by several physicians who happened to be on the ground. Every house in the little village was turned into a temporary hospital, and every doctor in Alton and its vicinity was summoned.

As soon as possible a train was made up and twenty of the sufferers were brought here to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The loss was total. It included the engine of the limited, baggage car, and seven tank cars full of oil, eight box cars and half a dozen flat cars, all of these being completely destroyed. No accurate estimate can be made at present, but it will reach at least $100,000.

WEBB ROSS, the brave engineer, who lost his life, left a wife and six children in Mattoon. No attempt to fix the blame for the fatal wreck has yet been made, and nothing further will be known until after the investigation of the Coroner’s jury to-morrow.

The New York Times, New York, NY 22 Jan 1893