The Purdue Wreck

Running at the rate of thirty miles an hour, a Big Four special train of six coaches, loaded with students of Purdue University, including the football team, was wrecked just inside the city limits by coming into collision with a switch engine hauling a train of coal cars. Fifteen persons were killed outright and fifty were injured, some of them so seriously that there is no hope of their recovery.

There were 954 students and spectators on the train, and the football team, which was scheduled for a game with the Indiana University team here, was in the forward car, and four players, three substitute players, two assistant coaches and one trainer were killed outright, and five members of the team were seriously and several slightly injured. The train was a special, made up a Lafayette, and, with few exceptions, all the passengers were Purdue students.

A clerk up the line had failed to inform a yardmaster of the approaching trains. As the Special closed in on 18th Street, the engineer rounded a bend to see a coal train being pushed up the main line. He slammed the engine in reverse, set the emergency brake and jumped.

In an instant, scattered about the tracks and the splintered remains of the first car were the players, coaches and staff who seconds before had been gathering belongings to alight at Union Station. A parade, to be led by the band - now trapped inside the second coach lying prone on the hillside - was to end at the Denison Hotel downtown.

The Purdue Wreck was a railroad train collision in Indianapolis, Indiana, on October 31, 1903, that killed 17 people, including 14 players on 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 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 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 never notified 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. As 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.

Memorial Gymnasium (renamed Felix Haas Hall in 2006) was constructed in 1909 on the Purdue University campus to honor the memory of those who perished. To mark the centennial of the Wreck in 2003, a tunnel in Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium was dedicated to the victims. The Purdue football team passes through the tunnel at the beginning and end of each home game.
Although the section of railroad no longer exists, satellite photographs still show traces of the rail bed leading to the accident site. Interstate highway 65 crosses the accident site. It is bounded on the north by W 21st St, on the south by W 16th St, on the east by Senate Blvd., and on the west by W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., W 18th St., and Mill St. The rail bed enters the site from the northwest. After crossing W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. just south of W 21st St, the rail bed begins a turn to the south until reaching Interstate 65. Beyond this point, the rail bed is no longer visible. A map of Indianapolis from 1916 shows the tracks continued south across W 16th St. at Lafayette St., then along Lafayette St. into the downtown area to Union Station. [4][5] Other than Interstate 65, current prominent landmarks at the site are Methodist Hospital to the east and the Peerless Pump factory to the north.