Hammond Circus Train Wreck

At 3.56am on 22 June 1918, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train had been moved onto a siding while it awaited clearance to proceed onto the line to Hammond where the circus was due to perform.

The rear of the train however had not cleared the mainline. Following the circus train was an empty troop train en route from Kalamazoo to Chicago. The driver of this train, having fallen asleep did not see the danger and ploughed into the rear of the stationary train at around 60 mph. Eighty six people died and 127 were injured. Many of the bodies were recovered from the burnt-out wreckage of the wooden, kerosene-lit pasenger cars.

In the pre-dawn hours just before 4 a.m. on June 22nd 1918 the city's worst ever civil accident, and the worst ever circus train wreck took place. Just beyond the city's eastern border at Ivanhoe, Indiana. The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train was parked on a rail siding waiting to switch over to a track which would take it Hammond.

The train was then scheduled to stop at Calumet Avenue and 150th Street (The site of present day A. L. Spohn School) where they would set up their tents and perform for the throngs of children and adults expected to attend.

How ever the circus train was not clear of the main Michigan Central Railroad line which it had just turned off, and right behind it was an empty troop train heading from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois. The engineer of the oncoming troop train did not see the circus train blocking his right of way, because he had just fallen asleep at the throttle.

There was nothing defective about the air brakes or other mechanism of the engine or train that I was operating, nor was there any defective condition of any of the signals or track upon which I was operating to the best of my knowledge. The accident was due solely to the fact that I accidentally fell asleep, and I had no intent to injure any person, nor was same done with malice, but solely through an accident, as aforesaid.”

— Alonzo Sargent, conductor of the train that caused the Hammond Circus Train Wreck