Indianapolis, IN Purdue University Football Team in Train Wreck, Oct 1903

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The Purdue Wreck was a railroad train collision in Indianapolis, Indiana, on October 31, 1903, which killed 17 people, including 14 players of the Purdue University football team.

Two special trains operated by the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (the "Big Four Railroad") were chartered to carry over 1,500 passengers from Lafayette to Indianapolis for the annual Indiana University / Purdue University rivalry football game. It was to be played for the first time at a "neutral" field at Washington Park in Indianapolis. Seventeen passengers in the first coach were killed when the lead special collided with a coal train after rounding a curve at the Mill Street Power House near 18th Street in Indianapolis. Thirteen of the dead were members of the Purdue football team. A fourteenth player died of his injuries in November 1903. Due to a breakdown in communication, the crew of the coal train was not aware the specials were approaching. They backed their train onto the main line just before the lead special arrived. The engineer of the special was able to throw the engine into reverse, set the brake, and jump clear of his engine, but he was not able to prevent the collision. After the impact, the uninjured passengers in the coaches further back wasted little time in coming to the aid of the wounded up ahead.

According to Joseph Bradfield, then a Purdue student riding in the procession, “We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital [….] There was no ambulance, no cars…” As the survivors of the wreck, including Purdue University President Winthrop E. Stone, comforted the injured and dying, others ran back up the track to stop the next special 10 minutes behind, thereby preventing an even greater tragedy.