Cary Clive Burford.

The Chatsworth Wreck : a saga of excursion train travel in the American Midwest in the 1880's online

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NOVEMBER 1, 1949

By Gary Glive Burford.


The Line Drawing on the Front Outside Cover of this book is the work o*
Jean Devaud, Bradley, 111., a student in the College of Fine and Applied Arts,
University of Illinois, November, 1949.




WEST IN THE 1880s.

By Cary Clive Burford
A.B., University of Illinois
A.M., University of Illinois


Fairbury, Illinois

November, 1949

Donovan M. Kramer, Publisher

B.S., University of Illinois


Introductory Note 3

T., P. & W. Depot, Chatsworth, 111., Its History 4

"The Bridge Was Burned at Chatsworth," in Song and Poetry . . 5

Chapter One — Disasters and Their Historical Importance . . . 6

"The Lady Elgin," Another Tragedy Embellished in Poetry ... 7

"Always Be Careful"— The Slogan of This Volume 9

Chapter Two— The T., P. & W. Railroad, Its History 10

Chapter Three — Communities Served by the T., P. & W 14

Keokuk, Iowa, Warsaw, Hamilton, Canton, 111 14

T., P. & W. Sponsors Towns on Its Eastern Extension .... 16

"The Campbell House," El Paso, 111., Its History 17, 19

Abraham Lincoln and the T., P. & W 18

"The Campbell House," Historical Plaque 20

Picture of "The Campbell House" 21

Fairbury, Forrest, Chatsworth, Piper City, 111 19, 22, 23, 24

Old-Time Passenger Trains on the T., P. & W. Railroad . . .24, 25
Chapter Four — The Romance of Old-Time, Popular Low-rate

Excursion Trains 27

Niagara Falls Excursions 32

Chapter Five — The Fatal T., P. & W. Excursion Train .... 33
Chapter Six — The Zero Moment, Midnight of August 10-11, 1887,

The Crash 35

Map of Central Illinois, Showing T., P. & W. Railroad . . . 42,43
Chapter Seven — Aid and Succor at the Wreck Site for

"The Wounded" 44

Pictures of the Wreck 37-39,45,47,49,55,83.84

Chapter Eight — L. J. Haberkom and His Experiences at the Wreck . 50

Picture of L. J. Haberkorn 53

Chapter Nine — Newspaper Coverage of the Wreck 54

Bloomington, 111., Pantagraph, and Its Famous "Scoop" Story . . 59

Picture of William McCambridge, Bloomington, 111., Pantagraph . . 59

Facsimile of Pantagraph's "Scoop Story" of the Wreck .... 61

Newspaper Sidelights Upon the Chatsworth Wreck 62

Wreck Recalled Annually by Contemporary Newspapers .... 64

Chapter Ten— Interviews With Persons Who Recall the Wreck . . 66
Chapter Eleven— The Last Round-Up— The Final Reunion of Survivors

of the Wreck, Chatsworth, 111., August 12, 1937 70

Picture of Group of Last Survivors, at Final Round-Up .... 71
Chapter Twelve— Summary of the Major Railroad Wrecks in the

United States 73

Chapter Thirteen— Synopsis of Ashtabula, Ohio, Wreck,

December 29, 1876 75

Chapter Fourteen — Conclusion 79

And Now— Two Drain Tile Instead of Timber Bridge .... 79

Memories From the Golden Years of Yesterday 80

Salutations and Greetings to American Railroads 82

"Always Be Careful"— The Life You Save May Be Your Own . . 82


This volume, a study of railroad travel and especially of old-\
time excursion trains, in the Central West in the 1880s and the
1890s, has two objectives.

> We wish to portray, as accurately and as fully a.s possible, also
^ as vividly, the events which led up to the Chatsworth Wreck, the

tragedy itself, and the aftermath of suffering, death and national

shock which the accident caused.

But — far more important — we have endeavored to picture the
transportation life of the people of the Central West in a period
when they depended almost solely upon trains for their traveling,
and especially upon local passenger trains and special excursion

The railroads then supplied practically the only means by
which the people in towns and small cities and upon farms in the
Central West could relieve the tedium of their village or rural life.

We have desired a similar recapture of those doubtless gone-
forever railway traveling years preceding and following the turn
of the present century which this author and Guy Mcllvain Smith,
Danville, 111., his co-author, pictured in our "History and Romance
of Danville Junction," a 1943 volume.

If this writer has succeeded in bringing to the people of 1949
and 1950 a glimpse of the happiness and the hazards of old-time
railroad traveling, on old-time excursion trains six decades ago,
we will feel assured that our labor on this volume has been abun-
dantly rewarded.


907 South Orchard Street,

Urbana, Illinois.


Chatsworth, Illinois

Same Building — Same Site

A Morgue, August 11, 1887

The T., P. & W. depot in Ciiatsworth,
m. This is the same depot in service
which stood on the same site in 1887,
according to L. J. Haberltom, Chats-
worth, m., who led the first relief
group to the site of the wreck, the
night of August 10-11, 1887.

This depot served as a morgue the
next day after the wreck. Bodies were
assembled there for shipment to their
homes. Guards were posted around
the depot to keep the curious and idle
away, while members of families of
deceased identified, or tried to iden-
tify, their dead.

Note the word "Chatsworth" on the
east end of the depot. The word "Chats-
worth" became a household term in
Illinois, the Central West and the
United States following the tragedy.
'Even today, people who were not born
in 1887, but who heard their elders
discuss "The Chatsworth Wreck,"
know the name of this town

L. J. Haberkom, Chatsworth, recalls
having seen 22 dead bodies lying upon

the platform at this depot the day
after the wreck.

Stretchers Hastily Made.

Mr. Haberkorn told this author that
three elderly carpenters, who were not
able to walk to the wreck, began work
on improvised stretchers for the dead
and injured brought from the wreck-
site itself. They took pine boards 12
feet in length, one foot in width and
one inch in thickness, cut them
through the center, making two boards
six feet in length and placd them to-
geather side by side. They put strips
under each end and in the middle, and
then cut hand holds on each side, mak-
ing a stretcher of each of them. The
dead and injured or "wounded" were
placed upon these hastily built, but
useful, stretchers, and loaded into
cars, and transported into Chats-
worth. Many dead bodies, in such
stretchers, reposed in front of, and be-
side, the above railway station. The
three carpenters made over 100 of
these stretchers.



By T. P. Westendorf.

Published by the John Church Co.

Philadelphia, Pa.

1- From City, Town and Hamlet,
They came a happy throng
To view the great Niagara
With joy they sped along.
The maiden and her lover,
The husband and the wife
The merry prattling children
So full of joyous life.


But oh! how much of sorrow,
And oh! how much of pain.
Awaited those who journeyed
On that fated railway train.

2. With hand upon the lever
And eye along the track
The engineer is standing
While shades of night are blacic.
They pass the town of Chats-
And rush into the gloom.
Ah! could some power have

stopped them.
E'er they had reached their doom.

3. For see! the smoldering embers
That lie along the ridge,

Ah, God in pity save them,
It is the railroad bridge.
Too late to turn the lever,
Too late to stop the train.
Too late to soothe the sorrow
Too late to ease the pain.

4. A mighty crash of timbers
A sound of hissing steam,
The groans and cries of anguish,
A woman's stifled scream.

The dead and dying mingled,
V/ith broken beams and bars
An awful human carnage,
A dreadful wreck of cars.

5. All honor to the heroes
Who flame and fury fought
AH thro' that night of horror,
A glory dearly bought.

As over land and water.
This thrilling message crossed:
"The bridge was burned at Chats-
A hundred lives are lost."

A Poem — A Song — Folklore

The above song, or poem, might
well be considered "The Theme Song"
of the great Chatsworth Wreck.

It was sung by children, young peo-
ple and adults for many years after
1887. It was used a a "piece," or a
song, for Friday afternoon school ex-
ercises or on "the last day of school"
programs. The Chatsworth Wreck so
impressed the people of the Central
West that they made it not only a
part of their history, but of their folk-
lore as well.

We are indebted to several friends
for copies of this song, especially to
Miss Faye Shafer, Chatsworth, HI.,
and to Judge Claude U. Stone, Editor
and Publisher, The Peoria Star, Peo-
ria, 111., and to others. The Chicago
Sun-Times published this song in Mil-
burn P. Akers' column, October 4, 1949.

It appears elsewhere, of course.

There is no copyright on this poem.
By authority of the Copyright Office,
Library of Congress, September 27,
1949, copyright has expired. We have
the same information from the Theo-
dore Presser Company, Music Pub-
lishers, Bryn Mawr, Pa., successors to
the John Church Company.

T. P. Westendorf is thought to have
written both the words and the music,
according to the Presser Company. He
was quite a well known composer and
song writer. He wrote the song, 'Til
Take You Home Again, Kathleen,"
which still has a large sale.

(Author's Note: No attempt is made
at this point to review the heroic and
Good Smaritan work of the people of
Chatsworth and other nearby towns
in rendering aid to the injured.


AT l/PR/lMn r..



Wrecks, Fire, Floods, Other Disasters and Their Historical Importance

in the Central West.

Unfortunately, disasters such as
fires, floods, explosions, wrecks and
other forms of death and loss, are a
paj:! of the vast panorama of history
in the Central Western states, as, in-
deed, they are in all parts of the
United States.

Regardless of our disapproval — and
certainly we do not like them — these
disasters with their tremendous costs
in life, health, strength and property
are an important chapter in our his-
torical records.

Railroad wrecks, in all areas of the
United States, have taken staggering
tolls of human life and well-being and
much property, both corporate and

One of the greatest of all railroad
wrecks in our nation — if we are will-
ing to construe "greatest" in terms of
human life — was the famous Chats-
worth Wreck on the night of August
10-11, 1887, on the Toledo, Peoria and
Western Railroad, about three miles
east of Chatsworth, III., when a heav-
ily loaded Niagara Falls excursion
train crashed into the burning debris
of a timber culvert bridge while run-
ning at a high rate of speed.

There have been numerous serious
railroad v^ecks in all parts of our be-
loved country. As a people we have
demanded speed and we have urged
prompt and efficient service, as a re
sponsibility of railroad officials. Amer-
ica has been growing and developing
at a tremendous rate. We have paid
for our greater speed with many rail-
road disasters.

Motor Mishaps.

But the railroad industry must not
be criticized for all of our tragedies.
Our modem highways in 1949 are tak-

ing an increasing, and a sickening, toll
of human life and strength and ol
physical property. Readers of our con-
temporary newspapers grow discour-
aged while reading the myriad of items
reflecting automobile collisions and
other forms of motor mishaps on our
highways. We do not, in this treatise,
include data and statistics on this type
of disasters as our readers, most un-
happily, are entirely familiar with
these daily tragedies. Fortunately, we
have noted in the summer of 1949, a
slight decrease in the number of au-
tomobile fatalities and accidents in
the United States. May this improve-
ment continue— please Allah,

Bus and truck disasters increase
with the greater number of these use-
ful vehicles on our highways. Buses
and trucks are heavy. When wrecks
befall them, the loss of life and prop-
erty is certain to be impressive.

Tragedy In the Air.

Air disasters continue, with great
loss of life. Most unfortunately, few
persons, comparatively speaking, who
are passengers or crewmen or women
in planes, live to survive a crash. If
there are 45 persons aboard a plane
which runs into difficulties then the
death toll is almost certain to be 45.
Few live to relate the story of a major
air crash.

Another major air tragedy occurred
November 1, 1949, when two planes,
one an Eastern Air Lines DC-4 passen-
ger ship, collided with a P-38 fighter
plane as each aircraft was attempting
to mai^e a landing at the Washington,
D. C, airport. A total of 55 lives were
taken, including two infants, four
crew members, and many notables,
including at least one or more mem-
bers of Congress. Several other prom-


inent rnen and women were aboard the
passenger ship, which was destroyed
with all on board.


The wreck of the Lady Elgin, a pas-
»;enger steamer on Lake Michigan, off
Evanston, 111., September 7, 1860, was
one of the tragic mishaps on our
beautiful Great Lakes, one of Nature's
most benificent gifts to Man in the
Central West. There were 300 lives
lost. (1)

"Lady Elgin" Disaster Also Cast Into
Verse and Song.

Milburn P. Akers, columnist of the
Chicago Sun, now the Sun-Times, pub-
lished September 7, 3947, an interest-
mg column story on the wreck of the
"Lady Elgin," passenger craft on Lake
Michigan, which went down with loss
<3t a-most 300 passengers.

"Lost on the Lady Elgin."

Out of that disaster came the 19th
century classic, "Lost on the Lady El-
gin," 0. typical Vict'^rian poem that
v/as set to music, and sung for many
years thereafter.

The Rev. Edv/ard J. Dowling, S.J.,
writing in the current issue of the

(1) "The Wreck of the Lady Elgin,"
by Dwight F. Clark, Evanston, 111.,
President, Illinois State Historical So-
ciety, 1948-1949, Journal of the Society,
Volume XXXIX, 1946, pages 407 seq.

Also note article, "The Wreck of the
James V/atson," Illinois State Histori-
cal Society, Volume XXXVII, 1944,
pages 213 seq., "being a Civil Vv'ar Dis-
aster, -the wreck of the Vicksburg
Memphis packet, James V/atson," car-
rying government freight, a large num-
ber of passengers and 80 soldiers sank
in the Mississippi River, below Napo-
leon Landing, the morning of March 2,
1SG5. Thirty lives were lost, includ-
ing the Adams Kxpress m.essenger, 20
soldiers and several ladies and chil-
dren. Officers of the boat were mostly
saved. The steamer and cargo vvcre
a total loss."

Illinois State Historical Journal, re-
calls not only the disaster but the
song that commemorates it as well.
Lost on the Lady Elgin.
Up from the poor man's cottage,
Forth from the mansion door,
Reaching across the waters.
Echoing 'long the shore;
Caught in the morning breezes,
Borne on the evening gale,
Cometh a voice of mourning —
A sad and solemn wail.

Lost on the Lady Elgin,
Sleeping to wake no more;
Numbered with that three hundred
Who failed to reach the shore.
Oh! 'tis the cry of children
Weeping for parents gone;
Children who slept at evening.
Orphans, awoke at dawn.
Sisters for brothers weeping.
Husbands for missing wives.
Such were the ties dissevered.
In those three hundred lives.

Staunch was the noble steamer.
Precious the freight she bore,
Gaily she loosed her cable
A few short hours before.
Grandly she sv/ept our harbor.
Joyfully rang the bell.
Little thought she ere tomorrow,
'Twould toll so sad a knell.

This song, like "The Bridge Was
Burned at Chatsworth," became a part
of the song background, one might
also say, the folklore music of the
pcEt-Civil War period.

The Lady Elgin, named for the wife
of a Canadian governor, had brought
a largo group of Milwaukeans, prir-.-
cipally from the city's old third ward,
to Chicago for a political rally.

Leaving Chicago the night of Sep-
tember 7, 1860, for the return trip, the
Lady Elgin encountered rough v/eath-
cr. Scmev.'hcre near the Illinois-Wis-
consin line, probably off Waukegan
(some v/riters say off Evanston) sm
was rammed by the schooner Augusta,
and sank.

"Many lost their lives on the spot,"
so Father Dowling writes. "But otherb
foimd safety amid the floating wreck-
age, especially the upper deck cover-
ing which Captain Jack Wilson had
ordered to be chopped loose. A major-
ity of the survivors floated safely on
this makeshipt raft, only to meet death
in the heavy surf at the shore line at
Winnetka. Captain Wilson died with
his passengers."

In the lobby of the Northwestern
University gymnasium there is a
memorial tablet to a Garrett Biblical
Institute student, Edward Spencer,
who became the hero of the occasion.

"Strong and courageous," says Fa-
ther Dowling, "he braved the waves
to swim out and rescue 17 people be-
fore he fell exhausted "

Milwaukee, whose citizens consti-
tuted the bulk of those lost in the
Lady Elgin disaster, annually recalls
the tragedy with memorial services at
the city's St. John's Cathedral.

Eastland Tragedy.

The Eastland tragedy, when this
Great Lakes excursion craft tipped
over in the Chicago River, as she was
about to depart on a day's joyful jour-
ney, July 24, 1915, terminated the lives
of 812 persons. Significantly, this ves-
sel did not sink. Overcrowded, with
many people rushing to one side of
the boat, the vessel simply turned over
on its side in the Chicago River, with
certain death for hundreds submerged
beneath the water of the stream.

Tragedy In Industry.

Industrial accidents and disasters
are important in our American econ-
omy. Coal mines, unfortunately, are
frequent sources of deaths and inju-
ries. The Cherry, III., mine disaster,
November, 1909, took a toll of 270
lives. The Centralia, 111., mine tragedy
March 25, 1947, was one of our most
serious mine disasters, with loss of
211 lives.

The Iroquois Theatre Fire, Decem-
ber 30, 1903, was one of our most cost-
ly theatre disasters, with a death rec-

ord of 602 lives, with many more in-

Other Disasters.

River floods along the Mississippi,
Ohio and Illinois rivers have been se-
rious, but the total loss of life has
been widely distributed through many
communities. However, there has been
great suffering and much loss of prop-
erty at points such as Shawneetown,
111., Paducah, Ky., Beardstown, HI.,
and many other towns and cities when
Old Man River has run amuck on his
wild caprices.

The last place of all for heavy death
toll might seem to be in a hospital,
yet the fire which destroyed St. An-
thony's Hospital, Effingham, 111., April
5, 1949, was the cause of about 80 lives
being lost — this was the nation's most
serious hospital fire.

No attempt can possibly be made in
this brief recapitulation to enumerate
all, or even a major or a minor portion,
of the various disasters which have
arisen, in one form or another, in
transportation, industry or amusement
in our Central States alone.

Caution — ^Be Careful.

Suffice the matter to emphasize that
caution must continually be our watch-
word. Industry, traffic, the rush for
amusement, and the increasing mech-
anization of man's tools, including
farm implements, bring mankind to
that certain rendezvous with Death.
And if Death itself does not intervene,
then injuries to life and limb and loss
of property are the inevitable result
of Man coming into collision with gi-
gantic forces of Nature which he can-
not — even in these scientific days of
1949- — control.

Death takes no holiday. This ob-
servation runs true to form — with no
exceptions. Whether we travel by
railroad train, or by bus or boat, or
by privately ov^med and operated au-
tomobile, or whether our duties take
us into the fields of grain, or into
shops and factories and warehouses,


or into the realm of v/holesome sports
and recreation, we must allot full 100
per cent attention to that slogan, now
so universally proclaimed by our rail-
roads and industries:


Death on the Nigiit of August
10-11, 1887.

Death certainly rode the rails on that
summer night of August 10-11, 1887,
when a T., P. & W. passenger train,
rushing through the darkness towards
Niagara Falls, became a burning hor-
ror of wreckage near Chatsworth, 111.
Under the tonnage of two locomotives
and many heavily loaded coaches, a
blazing timber culvert collapsed and
those wooden cars splintered and piled
high, one upon another.

The night was made hideous with
the cries of the injured, or "the
wounded," as contemporary news-
papers used the term, for it was only
22 years after Appomatox. The Civil
War was still grimly and vividly re-

The hundreds of injured were taken
to neighboring towns, and eventually
to Peoria, 111., where impromptu hos-
pitals were speedily — perhaps clum-
sily, even if lovingly — prepared to care
instantly, as best they could, for the
gigantic task so immediately at hand.

The dead were laid out in rows upon
the bosom of the fertile Illinois prairie.
Later, they were removed to nearby
towns and eventually to their home

communities for their last long sleep.

The night was horrible. Succeeding
days with increasing fatalities were
certainly as deplorable.

Yet this event was an important his
torical episode in the story of Ameri-
can transportation. It should be told.
It should be— it must be— preserved
as surely as Carl Sandburg and other
able historians relate the sufferings of
the American Civil War — without
doubt our greatest internal American

Gettysburg and Vicksburg and
Petersburg are never pleasant, albeit
they are most important. These and
other battles and campaigns in otu-
Civil War are being studied today as
they have never been before.

Disasters — yes, even great wars -
should teach us something of the frail-
ty of Man. From these regrettable
events, Man may be able to improve
his future. He should — certainly he
has cast some blots upon his record
in the past.

The Chatsworth Wreck, the third
most costly in human life in American
transportation, can teach us many

Above all, and over all„ in the con-
duct of American industry, and high-
way and other forms of traffic, and
our daily life in general, the Chats-
worth Wreck can impress upon us the
need for attention to that important
slogan, let us



The Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad, the Railroad of the Famous

Chatsworth Wreck.

Following an almost direct east-west
route across the State of Illinois —
from Effner, Indiana, on the Illinois-
Indiana state line to the Mississippi
River, at Hamilton, 111., Warsaw, 111.,
and Keokuk, Iowa — a distance of 239
miles, the Toledo, Peoria and Western
Railroad is correctly evaluated as one
of the important freight arteries of
the nation.

This railroad connects the most im-
portant freight lines of the East with
those of the West, thus affording
quick and efficient transcontinental
cargo movements on a far-flung na-
tional scale.

The T., P. & W. today, as in past dec-
ades, is the "Outermost Outer Belt
Line" of the Chicago area. By-passing
all of the Chicago and Northern Indi-
ana vast industrial areas, the T., P.
& W. connects Eastern trunk lines
such as the New York Central and the
Pennsylvania with Illinois main liney
of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois, the
Milwaukee System, the Illinois Cen-
tral, the Wabash, and the Gulf, Mo-
bile and Ohio (or the Alton Route)
with the great railroads of the West
and the Far West, including, of course,
the Burlington, the Santa Fe and the
Rock Island.

While the T., P. & W. itself does not
serve a city larger than Peoria and
the general Peoria industrial area, it
connects with roads which enter and
serve all the great cities of the nation,
from New York to the Pacific Coast.

Passenger Service Discontinued.

Passenger service was discontinued
on the T., P. & W. Railroad in 1927.
Many of the passenger stations of the
T., P. & W. were joint or union sta-
tions with other roads, as with the
New York Central at Sheldon, the C.
and E. I. at Watseka, the Illinois Cen

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Online LibraryCary Clive BurfordThe Chatsworth Wreck : a saga of excursion train travel in the American Midwest in the 1880's → online text (page 1 of 10)