Blair County PAGenWeb


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Blair County Newspaper Articles


Walter L. Main Circus Train Wreck, June 1893 - Part 1


Walter L. Main's Circus Train Wrecked Near Tyrone
The Wreck Occurred on the Tyrone & Clearfield Railway, Four Miles from Tyrone - Five Men Killed and Eleven Injured - Fifty-two Horses and Other Animals Meet Their Fate. The Circus a Complete Wreck - Clearing up the Debris Today - Coroner Poet's Inquest.


The most destructive and appalling wreck in the history of the Tyrone & Clearfield branch of the Pennsylvania railroad occurred about 5:30 Tuesday morning at McCann's crossing four miles north west of Tyrone. The train containing Walter L. Main's circus and menagerie was derailed and piled in a confused mass, five men were killed outright, seven were seriously injured, and others suffered more or less injury, over a half hundred horses with other animals were killed, a few of the animals escaped to the woods, fourteen cars were demolished, and the twenty-five handsome wagons and most of the other equipments of the circus were destroyed.


Walter L. Main's circus exhibited at Houtzdale Monday. Their train consisted of ten flat cars, three stock cars, a combination car and three sleepers, placed in order named. The flat cars contained the wagons, calliope and other vehicles, with the caged animals; the combination car had a lunch compartment; the sleepers were used by the show managers and members. About 2 o'clock Tuesday morning the loaded circus train left Houtzdale for Lewistown where the exhibit was to have been made Decoration day, and the train was in charge of the following crew, with engine 1500 hauling it: Engineer M. S. Creswell, Fireman Harry Miess, Conductor William Snyder, Flagman James Barger, and Brakeman William Heverly, John Grazier and Harry Myers. Over three hundred people, all told, members and attaches of the circus, were on board.


The run was made without incident until in the vicinity of McCann's crossing, when the speed had become sufficient to alarm those riding on the cars, and it was evident that the train was not under complete control. Suddenly there was a terrific crash and the forward cars left the track, those in the rear with their heavy freight piling rapidly upon and around them. The engine became detached from the train and did not leave the track. The heavily laden combination car swung around and directly across the track forming a Providential barrier against which the sleepers rushed with a heavy thud and then came to a standstill, the occupants receiving a sudden, severe jolt but suffering no further injury.


Not so well, however, did those unfortunates fare, who occupied the flat and stock cars. These cars, wagons, stock, wild animals and men were thrown in all directions. The scene of wreckage is beyond adequate description. An awful silence momentarily followed the crash, then the cries of the wounded, the rush of the unrestrained animals, the crackling of timbers, and the hurry to rescue sounded upon the clear morning air.


It required two hours' laborious work to extricate Frank Train from under the heavy wagon and timbers where he lay. Brakeman William Heverly was taken from beneath a mass of debris, and three laborers were taken from the wreck dead. Besides a number of others were injured in the catastrophe, and placed in as comfortable position as possible. The Tyrone wreck crew was early on the scene and carried on the work of rescue nobly aided by the circus people. The casualties to human life were as follows:




WILLIAM HEVERLY, brakeman, Tyrone.
FRANK TRAIN, treasurer of circus, Indianapolis, Ind.
JAMES STRAYER, laborer, Houtzdale.
WILLIAM LEE, laborer, Lincoln, Neb.
BARNEY MULTANEY, laborer, New York.




JOHN CHAMBERS, colored, aged 30, Mercersburg, Pa., right hand bitten by lion.
ARTHUR RICHARDS, Butler county, Pa., age 18, laceration of left upper eyelid.
GEORGE CORTEN, Hollidaysburg, contusion of chest.
FRANK BARNETT, Tarentum, Pa., age 20, contusion of left arm and hand and laceration of thumb.
WILLIS O'BANNON, Chambersburg, Pa., age 30, wounds of scalp and face.
DAVID JONES, Harrisburg, Pa., age 33, sprain of right thigh.
FRANK MORSE, Rochester, N.Y., age 18, eyebrow and scalp wound.
WILLIAM EVANS, Williamstown, Pa., aged 19, laceration of right ankle and probable internal injury; condition critical.
WILLIAM E. PATCHELL, Dubois, Pa., age 20, contusion of left knee.
JAMES WILLIAM HANEY, Alberton, Westmoreland county, Pa., age 27, contusion of right shoulder and scalp wounds, right ear nearly torn off.
LOUIE CHAMPAIGN, Rochester, N.Y., serious internal injuries, unconscious.


The bodies of the five dead men were brought to Tyrone and prepared for burial at the undertaking establishment of Burley & Graham. Tyrone physicians were early on the scene and furnished all possible relief to the wounded who were conveyed on a special train to the Altoona hospital. There Chambers, Richards, Corten and Barnett, who were only slightly injured, received necessary treatment and left for their homes. The other seven wounded men remained at the hospital.


With the exception of the engine and three sleeping cars, the loss of rolling stock and freight is almost total. The cars and wagons were smashed beyond repair, among the property destroyed being a calliope which cost $2,500. Altogether twenty-five show wagons, chariots, buggies and other vehicles were wrecked. Sixteen cages containing the animals of the menagerie were broken open and the imprisoned beasts were killed, maimed or escaped to the fields and woods.


Mr. Main had 130 hear of horses; and better never traveled with any circus. The mortality among these is very large, no less than 52 having been killed in the disaster. Among the unfortunate animals were some of the most valuable in the show. Snow Flake, the marvelously intelligent leader of Joseph Berriss' six-horse team, was mortally injured, and despite every effort to save him, he died last evening; he was the most valuable of the team valued at $20,000. All the horses ridden to Tony Lowanda, the principal rider are dead.


The escape of wild animals from their cages created great consternation and it was in the midst of danger that the friends of the killed and wounded went to their rescue. The big man-slayer, a ferocious ape, was luckily captured and caged before he could do any damage. One elephant was injured about the hip; the other elephant safely withstood the shock. The camels, dromedaries and many of the other animals escaped, the pair of sacred cows were killed.


The most ferociously inclined of the escaped animals were the two Bengal tigers. One of these was safely captured. The second made his way to the farm of Alfred Thomas. Here Mrs. Thomas was milking the cows, when the tiger leaped upon one of the bovines killing it instantly and beginning to devour its quivering flesh. The terrified woman screamed for Mr. Thomas who appeared on the scene and shot the carnivorous beast.


Three lions escaped, one of which was shot and the other two captured. A silver tip panther was at large until Tuesday night when he was shot. The skins of the animals being valuable, they were removed from the dead lion,tiger and panther next morning. Most of the animals are either secured or accounted for. Not to mention the small animals, reptiles and birds which have escaped to the mountains and will probably not be recaptured, there remain only three of the larger beasts at large. These are an Australian anteater, Australian agoutis and a black tiger (only three of the species in America). Local hunters are assisting in the search for these animals.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 5 [page five of this issue is the first page of a late edition.]


William Heverly.


William Heverly, brakeman on the wrecked train, when he saw that the catastrophe was imminent, jumped from the third car of the train, but the disaster occurred about the same time, and he was buried beneath the mass, suffering instant death.


The deceased was a son of Jacob and Martha Heverly, of this place. He was born April 2, 1864, being aged therefore 29 years, 1 month and 28 days. With his wife and three children, Forest, Earl and Mary, he resided on Blair avenue, Tyrone. Besides this immediately family from whom husband and father has been so suddenly and sadly taken away, he is survived by his parents, three sisters and two brothers; the latter are: Mrs. John Ewing, of Lloydsville; Samuel, of Peru, Indiana; Mrs. Ira W. Cook, Lottie and John, of Tyrone.


William Heverly had been employed for about two years as brakeman on the Tyrone division, and was a steady, faithful employe. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Among his fellow workmen he was popular and esteemed as a worthy, industrious young man, and in his family circle was a devoted husband and father.


The funeral services were held at the home of the parents of the deceased, Thirteenth street, near Pennsylvania avenue, at 4 yesterday afternoon, and were conducted by Rev. R. H. Gilbert. Interment in Tyrone cemetery.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 5


Frank Train.


Frank Train, treasurer of the circus, was sleeping in the ticket wagon on one of the flat cars, when the crash occurred, and was powerless to extricate himself. He was pinned underneath the wreck, with a car-beam pressing tightly upon his breast. He was perfectly conscious and realized his position when the willing workers made all possible speed to rescue him, telling them that he could not survive the accident, and indeed just as the beam was lifted from his breast, the spark of life fled.


Mr. Train was a genial young man, very popular with the members of the company. He was aged about 25 years, had been in the show business for several years, and the present was his third season with Mr. Main. He is survived by his mother and one brother who reside at Indianapolis where he also made his home, and where he held membership in Centre Lodge No. 23 Free and Accepted Masons, Lodge No. 13, B.P.O. Elks, Star Lodge No. 7, Knights of Pythias, and St. Cloud Tribe No. 18 Order of Red Men.


The remains were shipped next morning to Logansport, Indiana, where in the family burying ground poor Frank Train will be laid to rest. The Masons, Elks, Knight of Pythias and Red Men, of Tyrone, with the Main circus band, accompanied the remains in solemn funeral procession to the train.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 5


The Other Fatalities.


It is not known exactly where the three laborers were on the train when the crash came that caused their death. They were all killed instantly.


James Strayer, one of the unfortunates, had hired with the circus only the day previous at Houtzdale and was taking his first trip. He was a son of Reuben Strayer, Sr., of Houtzdale, and like his father had been a coal miner. The young man was aged about 21 years. Surviving him are his parents, five brothers and three sisters. His brother, Reuben, of Altoona, came to Tyrone and in his charge the remains were conveyed to Houtzdale Tuesday afternoon, where the funeral will take place.


Efforts were made by telegraph to reach the friends of the other two men killed, Lee and Multaney, but without response. The bodies were prepared here for burial, and were interred in Tyrone cemetery at 5 yesterday evening, services to be conducted by Rev. R. H. Gilbert.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 5


At the Wreck Yesterday.


The news of the big wreck had no sooner reached Tyrone Tuesday morning when streams of people poured from town to the scene of the disaster. The roads were filled with vehicles and the morning trains were crowded. All day the spectacle was witnessed by eager throngs and yesterday there was still another crowd of people at the scene, many persons coming from surrounding towns to satisfy their curiosity.


The Tyrone wreck crew were early upon the ground and at work. Little in the course of clearing up debris was accomplished Tuesday, as the time was necessarily spent removing the timbers, etc., in search of possible missing bodies. Not until midnight that night did the workers cease to search, being satisfied then that the unfortunate ones had all been found.


The work of clearing began in earnest next morning and the experienced wreck crews have been clearing up the debris today with all possible speed. Ditches were dub in which to bury the dead horses and animals, and from the wrecked wagons all probable salvage was obtain and temporary cages were built for the animals which had been kept corralled and tied to convenient trees.


The tents have been erected at the scene of the wreck and there a large share of the show people are in camp awaiting the next movement of the unfortunate company. Sixty-five of the show people are boarding at the Empire house, and thought the sudden rush has taxed that hostelry to the utmost, all are being well and comfortably cared for.


Mr. Main is almost heartbroken over the dreadful affair, not so much on account of his personal loss which is very heavy, as on account of the fearful destruction to life. He has not given his own loss study, and does not furnish any estimate of its probable extent. Others near to him and long associated with the show, agree that the probable loss to Mr. Main will reach $200,000, and may even approach a larger sum. Dr. E. D. Colvin, the assistant manager, W. Fred Aymar, the press representative, and J. D. Harrison, the correspondent of the company, in courteously answering the reporter's questions, aver that no definite plans for recouping or disbanding the circus have yet been made, and pending the inquest and its developments the company will make Tyrone their temporary home. Their winter quarters are at Geneva, Ohio, and it is altogether likely they will return there to reorganize and again take the road before the season is much older.


Our people express the deepest sympathy for Mr. Main and his friends. The company throughout is composed of excellent people who endure their misfortune with a commendable cheerfulness, forgetting their own plight in their sympathy for their esteemed employer and sorrow over the untimely end of their fellow travellers.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 5


The parents and family of the late William Heverly desire in this public manner to express their gratitude to the ladies, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and the Main circus band, for kindnesses rendered them at the time of their recent sad bereavement.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Resting After the Excitement.


The members of the Walter L. Main circus are still tarrying either at the hotels in Tyrone or at their temporary camp near the scene of Tuesday's wreck. Their work of gathering together what they could, of their effects, is about completed. The dead horses and other animals have been buried and the attaches of the show have since been assisting the wreck crew in packing up the salvage. One more horse died last night from injuries received in the disaster. He was a valuable ring performer.


This morning the combination lunch car was brought down to the repair shop in the Tyrone yard. After it had arrived there, the shopmen found a lone monkey in one corner of the car, where the poor animal had taken refuge. The monkey was not injured.


The fine orchestra connected with the circus will play some of the very best of music as part of the program for the entertainment by St. Matthew's school. It is altogether likely, too, that the circus people will give an entertainment or two while they tarry in Tyrone, and our people will be pleased if they decide to do so.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Two Wounded Out From the Hospital.


Frank Morse and William E. Patchell, two of the laborers injured in the circus train wreck, who were under treatment for wounds received, at the Altoona hospital, were discharged this morning. Morse came to Tyrone at noon and joined the show party here. He carries his right foot and left arm bandaged and has several severe cuts about the head and face. His home is at Rochester, N.Y. Patchell, whose home is at DuBois, came to Tyrone this morning, and will likely return to DuBois to recuperate.


The other injured men at the hospital, five in number, are all improving nicely and will recover. There was a rumor here that Louie Champaign, the cook tent man, had died last night, but this rumor is unfounded. Both Champaign and Evans, the most seriously injured men, are much better this afternoon, and all five of the patients at the hospital are reported in steadily improving condition.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Robert M. Gates Killed While Working at the Circus Train Wreck.


Another fatal accident occurred between 3 and 4 Thursday morning at McCann's crossing along the T. & C. railway, by which Robert M. Gates, one of the workmen of the Tyrone repair shops and wreck crew, met his death.


Mr. Gates was engaged with the crew in clearing up the wreck of the Main circus train. At the time of the accident the men were pulling the tender from the bank below to the track by means of a long rope, and Robert Gates and William Lehner were working together blocking the car as it was being raised, when the rope broke, and according to the best theory advanced, struck the unfortunate man as he was endeavoring to get out of the way. After he was struck he rose to his feet, then fell backward again to the ground. His companion asked Mr. Gates if he knew him. The stricken man answered that he did, but never spoke again, and after lingering one hour, he died. There was only a slight bruise upon one eye and a small cut upon the back of his head, and it is thought that internal injuries caused his death. The remains were brought to the undertaking establishment of Burley & Graham in Tyrone and prepared for burial, being conveyed this afternoon to his parents' home at Pennsylvania Furnace.


The deceased was aged 28 years and was the son of William and Catherine Gates, of Pennsylvania Furnace. Until a year ago he worked upon the farm at home, coming to Tyrone last May, and engaging as a laborer in the Tyrone railroad shops. Two months ago he was promoted to the repair shop crew. He boarded with Mrs. McMurtrie on Blair avenue. An excellent and industrious young man, he is deeply mourned by all who knew him. He was a member of Camp 506 P.O.S. of A., of Pennsylvania Furnace, and had been a member of the Sheridan Troop for three years, his time of enlistment expiring last April. He was also a member of the Presbyterian church.


Surviving the deceased are his parents, one sister and four brothers, Mila, Frank, Thomas, William and Roland. An especially sad feature of the accident too is that he was betrothed to an excellent young lady of Tyrone, to whom the blow comes with grievous force.


The funeral services will be conducted by Rev. T. S. Ermentrout at the home of the bereaved parents at Pennsylvania Furnace, Saturday morning at 10.30 o'clock.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Four Sad Funeral Processions.


There were four sad funeral processions in Tyrone yesterday, marking all the possible respect that could be shown the victims of Tuesday's disastrous wreck at McCann's crossing. In the morning the remains of Treasurer Frank Train, of Main's circus, were taken to the station whence they were shipped to his friends at Logansport, Indiana. Three burials took place in Tyrone cemetery in the afternoon.


At 4 o'clock, at his parents' residence on Thirteenth street, the funeral services over Brakeman William Heverly were held. The Main circus band and members of the company were in attendance as well as a large concourse of friends, who followed the remains to the cemetery. At 5 o'clock the bodies of Thomas Lee and Barney Multaney, encased in coffins, were conveyed to the cemetery. McNutt's colored band, the second of the four circus bands, accompanying and playing solemn dirges, followed by the funeral procession of nearly all the members and employes of the show, forming a long and impressive line.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


It is likely that Walter L. Main and his company will remain in Tyrone for some time yet. Mr. Main says his plant is ruined beyond present recuperation and that he will not likely reorganize his circus for this season.


The entire orchestra of Main's circus will render several of their best selections at the St. Matthew's Catholic school entertainment at the academy of music tomorrow evening. This is a fine orchestra and their assistance at the entertainment will add still more to the attractiveness of the program.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Coroner's Investigation Continued.


Coroner M. Poet, with the jury empannelled to hear evidence as to the cause of the death of the five persons killed in the circus train wreck at McMann's crossing on Tuesday morning, met in Herald hall, Tyrone, at 7 o'clock last evening and heard the testimony of the following witnesses: M. S. Cresswell, engineer; William Snyder, conductor; C. W. Myers, brakeman; J. B. Barger, flagman, and Harry Meiss, fireman. John Grazier, the remaining brakeman of the crew, was not present.


Engineer Cresswell testified that he left the Summit hauling the seventeen show cars and cabin, at 5.09, coming down the road at a moderate rate of speed. The wreck occurred at 5.55, when the train was running at the rate of 25 to 30 miles an hour, not at all a dangerous speed in Mr. Cresswell's opinion. Just before the wreck the engineer noticed a slight jump of the train, then he testifies that something about the first car broke, and the crash occurred, the tender tearing loose from the engine which he moved a short distance ahead and then stopped, going at once himself to the telegraph office and reporting the accident. He stated that the train was under complete control, the speed was not unusual and he had felt no alarm at all for the safety of the train.


The other trainmen substantiated Engineer Cresswell in his statements, all agreeing that the speed was not greater than 25 to 30 miles an hour and that they had not felt alarmed at the rate the train was going. Conductor Snyder said the train had been properly inspected, he had examined it himself and only after feeling certain of its safety did he proceed down the mountain. The air brake connection extended over seven cars, and hand-brakes were also in use. Brakeman Heverly was stationed on one of the first three cars; Brakeman Grazier on the platform between the combination car and first sleeper; Brakeman Myers between the second and third sleepers; Conductor Snyder on the rear platform of the third sleeper, and Flagman Barger in the cabin. All the witnesses believed the accident was unavoidable.


Only the testimony of the trainmen was taken at last evening's session, the room becoming so crowded with spectators that it was feared it might not be safe to remain. The inquest was therefore adjourned until 7 o'clock this evening at the Sheridan Troop armory, when additional testimony will be taken.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Visited the Scene of Wreck.


F. L. Sheppard, general superintendent, and J. M. Wallis, superintendent of motive power, of the P.R.R., came to Tyrone this morning in a special train and with Superintendent S. S. Blair, went to the scene of the recent wreck at McCann's crossing.


The railroad company is using every effort to aid in security the comfort of the circus people, having extended the courtesy of all the facilities they could furnish, in the way of boarding the members of the company, feeding the animals and storing the goods recovered from the wreck. The cars from the wreck being gotten together, with other salvage, are being stored in the upper repair shop of the railroad yard.


Today the steady work of the wreck crews shows its effect in the efficient clearing that has been made.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Thursday, June 1, 1893, page 4


Continued Session of the Coroner's Inquest. Several Showmen Testify.


About six hundred interested spectators thronged the Sheridan Troop armory last evening when Coroner Poet and his jury resumed the taking of testimony in their inquiry as to the cause of the accident by which Walter L. Main's circus train was wrecked near Tyrone Tuesday morning. The interest of the Pennsylvania Railroad company was looked after by Hon. J. D. Hicks, of Altoona; and A. A. Stevens, Esq., of Tyrone, and Hon. Stephen A. Northway, of Jefferson, Ohio, represented Mr. Main.


The following witnesses, all connected with the wrecked circus, were examined: William LaRue, acrobat and clown; F. Mont Long, musical director; J. D. Harrison, newspaper correspondent; William Burke, night watchman; George Mandeville, teamster; Philip Heidenfelder, glass blower. It was the opinion of all these witnesses that the train was running too rapidly for safety when the wreck occurred.


William Burke, the night watchman, was riding in the cabin at the rear end of the train. He estimated the speed just before the wreck at 45 miles an hour, basing his estimate upon his experience at railroading. Young Mandeville was riding in the locomotive and awoke just a few minutes before the crash. The other witnesses were in the sleepers and testified to their alarm at the rocking of the train.


The inquest was adjourned, after the hearing of the testimony, until 7 o'clock this evening when it is expected that Brakeman John Grazier will testify, Engineer Cresswell and Fireman Miess will be recalled, and any other witnesses who may be able to throw light upon the cause of the accident, will be heard. It is likely that the inquiry will be completed tonight and the jury will then study and weigh the evidence.


From the testimony thus far adduced, and the readiness with which all the witnesses have testified, it will be seen that the sensational stories sent out and published in some foreign newspapers at the time of the accident, were largely based upon pure speculation. Pending a thorough inquiry, too much credit should not be placed upon the many and various theories advanced. Everyone in any way concerned in the effects of the disaster is certainly making an earnest effort to unfathom [sic] its primary cause which, under the circumstances, seems difficult of accurate solution.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Friday, June 2, page 4


All the Circus to Come Here.


The work of clearing up at the scene of the wreck of the Main circus train is about completed and the salvage secured from wagons, cars, etc., has been removed. The tents still remain at the point where they were pitched just after the wreck and the horse and other animals are there with the employes in camp.


Steps are being taken to secure enclosed quarters for the stock and menagerie in Tyrone, where better veterinary treatment may be given the injured horses, and the Sheridan Troops armory's well equipped first floor has been secured for quartering all these animals where they will be as well housed as at their winter home. The big tent will be erected on Conrad's Park, East Twelfth street, where the showmen will be more conveniently situated during their stay here. When the removal shall have been made our people may look for an exhibition.


The managers and leading officials of the circus speak in the highest terms of the manner in which the railroad company is exerting itself to secure their comfort, every possible courtesy being extended them.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Friday, June 2, page 4


Fifty-three Horses Gone.


With the Walter L. Main circus were 119 horses, colts and ponies. Fifty of these were killed on the day of the wreck, two died yesterday and one more died this morning, a total of 53. Of the dead horse, thirty-five were work animals. The others were: Maggie, Dr. Colvin's buggy horse; Flake, Tom, Grant, Dandy, Sid, Tag, Dick, Mezepta, ring horses; Jim, Ted, hippodrome horses; Plow Boy, Maud S., Eagle, racers; Fannie, Daisy, ponies; Beaver, Houston, colts. Of this number, 18 were gray horses, 7 bay, 6 black, 6 white, 6 sorrell, 4 dun, 3 roan, 2 brown and 1 spot.


Sixty-six horses belonging to the company are still at the camp, and the injured ones are being treated by Mr. Evans, the veterinary surgeon of the show. Mr. Evans says all of the horses are more or less injured, some of them rather severely.


Tyrone Daily Herald, Tyrone, Pa., Friday, June 2, page 4


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