Where the animals are… by: Mindy Hardy
Sounds of crying animals, human screams and the smell of smoke permeates the air on the railroad tracks near Hammond Indiana. The strange thing is there is nothing there that is visible that should be making these noises, nothing but an area of railroad track cutting through Indiana. What could have happened here to cause this phenomena.
June 22, 1918, “Haganbeck-Wallace” circus employees, boarded a train headed to their next stop of Hammond, Indiana where they were to put on their show, one of the most popular circus’ in America, second only to “Ringling Brothers”. There were approximately 400 employees on board the train as well as many animals. The train included fourteen flatcars, seven stock cars for the animals and four sleeper cars for the employees, all cars made out of wood.
Along that same railroad track, heading the same direction as the “Haganbeck-Wallace” circus train Alonzo Sargent was operating a troop train from “Michigan Central Railroad”. The train was pulling 20 empty cars. Alonzo, having had very little sleep over the preceding 24 hours was falling asleep at the
controls. He had a kidney disorder and had take his medicine for this condition which could have contributed to his fatigue.
At 4:00 am, two automatic signals and warnings which were posted by a brakeman went unnoticed by Alonzo that the circus train had made a stop at a crossing known as “Ivanhoe Interlocking”, due to the smell of smoke coming from a hot box on one of the flat cars. Conducter R.W.Johnson, sent a flagman to the back of the train to watch for any problems during the emergency stop, as was standard operating procedure at the time. The flagman, seeing the impending crash tried frantically to get the attention of Alonzo to no avail. He watched as the train that Alonzo Sargent was operating slammed into the back of the circus train at speeds of about 35 miles per hour.
Minutes later, after the first cars hit burst into flame, the entire train became engulfed with both the employees and the animals still on board. Those who were able to escape tried to save the people that were still on the burning train but the fire burned but still being miles up the track from Hammond there was not much they could do but to watch the train burn and try to not think about the cries and screams they heard of humans and animals being burned alive.
The fire subsided at about 8 am. Identifying the victims was a daunting task as many were burned beyond recognition and some burned completely away with no evidence of their existence. There were single limbs found from some of the victims. All in all there were 86 killed and another 120 injured. Not only the humans suffered but the animals that perished. Most of the animals that did survive had to be destroyed because of their injuries and trauma.
“Showman’s Rest” is where between 56 and 61 victims were laid to rest, it is a section of the Woodlawn Cemetery that is 750 acres. Many of the stones that mark these grave say “unknown male” or “unknown female”. 5 elephant statues guard the graves bringing honor os well as human to the memorial that is placed there.
Is it any wonder that the tragic events of June 22, 1918 continue to replay itself in the area of “Ivanhoe Interlocking” near Hammond Indiana. Individuals who happen upon the site feel an intense sadness overcome them. Could this be the spirits of the employees wondering when their train will pull into Hammond for their next show? Do they feel the anxiety of the animals as they are unable to free themselves from this life of uncertainty. Are the screams that people hear at the site from the people who are in pain and torment, losing their lives to something so unbelievable or the ones who escaped and watched their friends, family and coworkers died in front of their eyes? Is the smell of smoke the way for the deceased to let the living know what happened in that spot many years ago. Why we may never know but does it happen? According to claims, it is a common occurrence.