Greeley, CO Circus Train Wreck, Aug 1884
A DREADFUL DEATH
Ten Roustabouts Connected with the Anglo-American Circus Perish in the Flames.
CRIMINAL CARELESSNESS OF THE MANAGERS.
On the morning of the 29th as the Anglo-American circus train on the way from Fort Collins to Greeley, reached a point about ten miles west of Greeley, a sleeping car containing over sixty men, mostly canvas and stock men, was discovered in flames, the result of a gasoline explosion. The car was much like a common caboose, with a door at each end and one window. One door was blocked by trunks and luggage, and the fire was at the other end thus leaving only the small window as a means of exit. It was the custom of the managers to carry in this car so crowded with human life, two barrels of gasoline which were used in lighting the circus grounds. It is supposed that this caught fire from a torch with which the car was lighted.
The explosion awoke everybody in the train. The engineer, hearing the explosion and seeing the bunk car aflame, whistled for brakes and the train was stopped as soon as possible. The engine being next the bunk car, the first thing the engineer did, after the train was stopped, was to cut loose from the burning car and pull off down the track. Then, seeing that unless the bunk car was separated from the others in the rear the whole train would burn, the engineer, with the assistance of other train men, managed to cut the cars loose and the burning car was towed down the track and permitted to burn up, as there were no hopes of saving it.
By this time everybody on the train was out and willing to do what ever they could for the unfortunate. There was no water in the vicinity, and to carry water by the bucketful from the engine tender would not have affected the ravenous flames, which, fed by the two barrels of gasoline, soon had the car consumed.
The engineer sped away to Greeley for medical aid, and the other men at once lent their assistance to the score of men who lay injured along the railway track, and who had miracuiously [sic] escaped from the car. Some were found unconscious and were revived. Others who suffered cuts, bruises and broken limbs were given the best of care. All were placed upon the cars. DR. HAWES, of Greeley, arrived on the engine and gave what assistance he could to the wounded. Meantime Denver had been telegraphed to for medical assistance, and DRS. LEMAN and FISK proceeded to the scene of the accident, where they remained attending to the injured until the train reached Denver.
The scene presented during all the morning hours was sorrowful in the extreme. As soon as the bunk car had burned out the circus performers and attaches forced their way into the car, and body after body, burned so as to be unrecognizable, were taken from the car. Then it was thought that the catastrophe was worse then it really is. The car was thought to be the crematory for fully two-thirds of the sixty men known to be in it. If seemed impossible that a majority of the unfortunate roustabouts could have escaped. When the car had been thoroughly searched and it was found that only the remains of ten men had been taken out, surprise was manifested that the fatality had been so small.
About daylight the remains of the dead and the bodies of the wounded had all been placed upon the train and the run into Greeley was made. Here the dead were given over to the care of the Coroner, and the train, with the wounded on board, started for Denver, arriving there at 8:45 o'clock. The wounded men were taken to St. Luke's Hospital and given every attention possible.
The blame for the sorrowful accident can only be rested in one place. The managers of the circus were criminally negligent in carrying such a high explosive as gasoline in the same car in which, to save expense, they crowded from sixty to eighty men nightly. Some of the men objected to the gasoline being in the car, knowing its danger, but as circus employes are treated like so many cur dogs, their complaints were never given a second thought. The men were forced to sleep in this car if they got any rest at all.
The loss to property is not large. The burned car belonged to the circus company, and the loss will hardly exceed $1,000. The loss to the railway company was only nominal.
The names of the dead, so far as learned at the inquest, are as follows:
ALEXANDER McLEAD, of Marrinelle, Illinois;
SAMUEL NORRIS, of Piqua, Ohio;
THOMAS McCARTY, of Independence, Iowa;
a young man named SILVERTHORN, and others named respectively ANDY, GEORGE, FRANK, FRENCHY and SMITHY.
Alamosa Journal Colorado 1884-09-04