The Crash at Crushby
hunded and twelve years ago this month, 40,000 people paid good money to be frightened
within an inch of their lives. |
Gathered on hillsides overlooking a railroad
track between Waco
and Hillsboro, the crowds came
to watch a planned head-on crash between two locomotives owned by the Missouri,
Kansas and Texas Railroad. (usually called the Katy).
The stunt was planned
by William G. Crush, a passenger agent for the Katy as the means to generate attention
for the railroad and sell a
lot of passenger tickets. Recalling the old gladiatorial days of Rome, Crush wanted
The crash site, dubbed Crush for the promoter,
was a natural amphitheater between three hills, giving the crowd a good view of
the event, which was publicized all over the country.
The year 1896 was
also a big political year with William Jennings Bryan’s first campaign for president.
Crush invited all political candidates to address the crowd of thousands. Several
did--all day long.
Motion pictures were also in their infancy and Thomas
Edison sent one of his cameramen from New York to capture the crash on film.
two Baldwin locomotives, Engines 999 and 1001, were somewhat outmoded, but were
in good working condition.
5 p.m. on September 15, the two locomotives rolled up to the crash site within
a few feet of each other, as if bowing in respect, and then backed off to a point
within a mile of the crash scene.
At 5:10 p.m., the engines started down
the track at speeds of forty-five miles an hour. The engineers jumped from each
train, their throttles locked down, and the locomotives struck head-on with such
force that both were telescoped into junk.
Both boilers exploded at the
same time and the air was filled with pieces of metal and steel from the size
of a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel. Dozens of people were injured and
one of those hurt later died from a head injury caused by a flying fragment of
A photographer who recorded the event was hit in the eye by a fragment,
Even as the dust was settling from the crash, people rushed
from the hills to collect souvenirs. Everything that could be lifted from the
ground was gobbled up by the crowds.
One writer described the aftermath
of the crash: “It is a scene that will haunt a man for many, many days, make him
nervous when he hears an engine whistle, and disturb his dreams with black clouds
of death-dealing iron hail.”
When railroad officials started cleaning
up the wreckage, they found a railroad watch inside one of the engines. It was
In the months following the crash, lawsuits filled the
courthouse and the Texas Legislature banned intentional train crashes.
Crush, the promoter, ironically did not see the crash and only reached the scene
several minutes after it occurred. He later apologized for the injuries and the
fatality and was fired by the railroad. But he was rehired after the company’s
president decided that the crash had, indeed, brought a lot of publicity to the
Another observer, humorist Alex Sweet was enthralled and suggested
that the next event “be a prearranged, scheduled meeting between a waterspout
and a tornado.”
The Crash at Crush
by Luke Warm. Illustrated with 6 photos
Crash At Crush - Song Lyric by Brian Burns - Brian Burns Music (BMI)