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Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22, 1918

Welcome to another edition of the Throwback Thursday post.  And this week's entry might seem a little out of the way considering the range of other topics I could have chosen.  Why I went with the selection I chose for today is because of the story behind this event - as tragic as it may be.

We'll get to that in a moment, but for now, have a look at some of the other things that happened on June 22 throughout history.

1774 - The Quebec Act is passed by the British

1807 - British warship HMS Leonard attacks and boards the American frigate USS Chesapeake

1813 - Laura Secord sets out on a journey spanning thirty kilometers to warn Lieutenant James FitzGibbon about an upcoming attack by the Americans on Beaver Dams in Ontario

1825 - Feudalism and the seigneurial system system is abolished in British North America by British parliament

1870 - U.S. Congress creates the United States Department of Justice

1906 - The Swedish flag is adopted

1911 - George V and Mary of Teck are crowned King and Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

1922 - Fashion designer Bill Blass (d. 2002) is born in Fort Wayne, Indiana

1928 - Actor Ralph Waite (d. 2014) is born in White Plains, New York

1941 - Journalist Ed Bradley (d. 2006) is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1942 - The Pledge of Allegiance is formally adopted by U.S. Congress

1944 - The G.I. Bill is signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt

1945 - The Battle of Okinawa concludes

1954 - Actor Freddie Prinze (d. 1977) is born in New York, New York

1969 - Singer/actress Judy Garland dies at the age of 47

1978 - Race car driver Dan Wheldon (d. 2011) is born in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, England

1984 - Virgin Atlantic Airways launches its first flight from Heathrow International Airport

1986 - Diego Maradona scores the controversial "Hand of God" goal during the quarter-finals of the 1986 FIFA Cup

1987 - Actor/singer/dancer Fred Astaire passes away at the age of 88

1990 - Checkpoint Charlie is dismantled in Berlin

2004 - Mattie Stepanek, the child author of the Heartsongs poetry books, dies at the age of 13

2008 - Comedian George Carlin dies at the age of 71

2009 - Nine people are killed when a Washington D.C. Metro train collides with another train parked outside of a train station

2012 - President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo is impeached

2015 - The Afghan National Assembly building is attacked by gunmen following a suicide bombing; 18 people are injured and all six gunmen are dispatched

And for celebrity birthdays, I'm not going to lie...we have a ton of them today!  A very happy birthday goes out to George Englund, John Cunningham, Prunella Scales, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Blackwell, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Peter Asher, Howard Kaylan, Todd Rundgren, Larry Junstrom, Alan Osmond, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Wagner, Elizabeth Warren, Christine L. Tudor, Graham Greene, Cyndi Lauper, Green Gartside, Tim Russ, Garry Gary Beers, Bruce Campbell, Erin Brockovich, Tracy Pollan, Jimmy Somerville, Clyde Drexler, Amy Brenneman, Emmanuelle Seigner, Steven Page, Kurt Warner, Carson Daly, Champ Bailey, Stephanie Jacobsen, Dustin Johnson, and Lara Bingle.

Wow...that is a LOT of celebrity birthdays, don't you think?

So, given everything that happened on June 22, I think I had a lot of possible topic choices to pick from.  But when it came to making my decision, I wanted to choose a topic that not a lot of people knew about.

And the date that this event happened was ninety-nine years ago today on June 22, 1918.  And I warn you ahead of time.  This tale doesn't have a very happy ending.  Despite that, it is a story that should be told, and I admit that I came up with the idea to choose this topic based on a recent event.

By now I am sure that you've heard that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has entertained its final audience.  The circus hosted its final performance in May 2017.  I seem to recall that not long after its final performance, a friend of mine posted a photo on their social media page which depicted the remnants of the circus heading towards its final destination by train.  It certainly is a bittersweet moment because I can remember being very entertained by the circus and liking most of the acts performed there.  I wasn't too fond of the acts that featured animals, and truth be told, any of the circuses that featured only human performers were ones I liked better.  But still, it's sad to say farewell to an institution that lasted nearly a hundred and fifty years.

At least in that case, the circus performers put on their final show and presumably went their separate ways.  Unfortunately back in 1918, a train loaded with circus performers didn't end up with such a happy ending.  In fact, for some of the people aboard the train, it would be the last day that they would ever be seen alive.

This is the story of the
Hammond Circus Train Wreck - a train disaster that killed at least eighty-six people and wounded over a hundred more.

At the time of the accident, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was the second largest circus operating within the United States (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was the largest), and in 1918, the circus was well on its way to having another successful year.  On June 22, 1918, the train was on its way to its next performance in the city of Hammond, Indiana.  A total of four hundred circus performers were aboard the twenty-six car train, and it was expected that they would arrive at their destination as scheduled.

Unfortunately, that train would not make it.

In the early morning hours of June 22, 1918 at around four in the morning, a second train being driven by Alonzo Sargent was heading on the same track as the circus train in the same direction by directly behind.  And by all accounts, Sargent was in no condition to be manning the controls.  It was reported that Sargent was extremely sleep deprived prior to boarding the train, and had hardly gotten any rest in the twenty-four hours prior.  Combine the sleep deprivation with the kidney pills that he was taking at the time, and you have a combination for instant sleepiness.  Sargent had fallen asleep in front of the controls, and by the time he woke up and realized what was happening, it was already too late to stop it.

It is believed that when he woke up, he had already missed two automatic signals and warnings posted by the brakeman of the circus train, and the circus train had actually pulled to a stop to check a hot box on one of the flatcars.  So when Sargent's train approached the circus train, there was not nearly enough time for Sargent to release the brake and Sargent's train plowed right into the back of the caboose and four wooden sleeping cars that were right next to it at a speed of 35 miles per hour.

The train impact was so severe that many of the eighty-six people that died aboard the circus train died almost instantly - at least thirty seconds after the crash.  A fire erupted almost immediately after the crash due to the oil lamps that were aboard the train cars, and since many of the cars on the circus train were made of wood, the fire spread very quickly.  Many of the performers that were stuck on the train were burned beyond recognition, and those that survived suffered terrible injuries.  It is estimated that 127 people were injured in the crash as well.

Suffice to say, the incident left a black mark on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, as they mourned the loss of eighty-six of their own.  Five days after the crash, most of the people who died were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in a section set aside as "Showman's Rest".  Because many of the victims were never formally identified, graves marked "Unknown Male" and "Unknown Female" had to be erected.  Surrounding the graves of the victims are statues of elephants in a mourning position. 

As for the fate of Alonzo Sargent, he and his fireman, Gustave Klauss were facing charges for the accident and the case was brought forth to trial - but the jury of the trial was deadlocked, and the judge was forced to rule a mistrial.  Since the prosecution decided not to re-try the case, the charges were dismissed two years after the accident in June 1920.

Now, you might think that this story has a sad ending...and well, it does.  However, one thing that you might not know was that the residents of Hammond, Illinois really stepped up to help the survivors of the crash, providing them with meals, changes of clothing, and a place to stay while they recuperated from their injuries. 

And in the circus world, the words "The Show Must Go On" are a standard - and in the case of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, competing circuses in the area (including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey) lent the circus some equipment that was lost in the crash so that they could go on and perform the shows as scheduled.  The only shows that the circus tour missed were the ones in Hammond, and one in Monroe, Wisconsin. 

And while some may have the opinion that it may have been poor taste to continue with the circus so soon after a tragedy, I would like to think that it was a form of healing for those left behind...and for those who died, I think they would have wanted the show to go on.

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