Potsdam, NY Barnum & Bailey Train Wreck, Aug 1889





(Special To The World.)
Watertown, N.Y., Aug. 23. -- Great excitement was caused in Northern New York towns this morning by the report that a section of Barnum & Bailey's circus train had been wrecked between Norwood and Potsdam, and that several employees and many animals had been killed. That part of the report relating to the killing of employees proved to be untrue, but the accident was bad enough. Barnum & Bailey gave their last exhibition in Gouvenour yesterday afternoon, and left there for Montreal early in the evening. Only one performance was given yesterday, in order to get through to Montreal in time to give two performances there today. The train carrying the great show was sent out in three sections. The first took the tents and the gilt-covered vans used to make up the usual street pageant. The second was made up of cars containing the horses, elephants, camels and a portion of the menagerie. The third section took the balance of the menagerie and the sleeping-cars occupied by the performers. The first section went over the road safely, but the second, when about three miles north of Potsdam, was wrecked. The cause of the accident was a broken axle, which derailed the car containing the elephants and five other cars, two of which were telescoped. The accident occurred at midnight and the train was running at a speed of twenty-five miles an hour. The scene following the crash that brought it to a standstill beggars description. In nearly every one of the cars were men whose business it was to attend to the animals. They were rudely awakened from their slumbers to find themselves in the midst of a mass of splintered timber, with dead and injured animals all about them. The horses were frantic with terror, and their screams were enough to make the blood freeze in the veins of the men, who in turn became panic-stricken, and added their cries to those of the brutes imprisoned in the debris. It was pitch dark, and there were no dwellings near by from which help could be obtained.
Those on the train who were in cars that did not leave the track at once set to work to rescue their unlucky companions. At first it was supposed that several men were killed in the telescoped cars, but after two hours' hard work all were accounted for. It was found that only two were injured, and they not seriously. The escape of all the men from death is little short of miraculous. Eleven men were taken out through the roof of one of the cars, in which a hole was chopped by the rescuing party. The accident caused a panic among the Arabs travelling with the show. They were in one of the cars that did not leave the track, yet they rushed out of their quarters and started off through the adjoining fields. When they found that some of their own men was injured they calmed down and did good work in helping to rescue the animals from the wreck. Help was also secured from the third section of the train which was following, and also from stations on both sides of the wreck. Fires were built, and by their light everybody worked with a will.
The task of getting the horses out of the wrecked cars was both difficult and dangerous. The animals were frightened and hard to manage. The dead and injured were so numerous that it was almost impossible to get at the uninjured. In the two cars that were telescoped there was but little to do, as every animal in them was killed. By daylight this morning most of the animals had been taken from the wreck. At the side of the tracks camels, sacred cows, steers and the various other animals rescued from the derailed cars were herded together. The cars were crushed and twisted into all sorts of shapes and piled up on the track in a seemingly hopeless tangle. The elephants were in the first car that was derailed and were not hurt. When taken from the car their behavior was ugly and it was about all the keepers could do to keep them under control. Some of the injured horses were taken to stables on the nearest farms to be cared for. Stock cars were then sent for and the injured animals were sent forward to Montreal.
When all were got out it was found that thirty-three horses, two camels and one trick mule had suffered death, while thirty-six animals were more or less injured. The trick ponies suffered death in the accident, as also did the $7,000 stallion which was driven by Mrs. Adam Forehaugh, Jr. Mrs. Forehaugh wept bitterly and would not be consoled when she learned of the death of this horse. The pretty mule which performed remarkable tricks is among the lost. Seven of the eight chariot horses are also dead. These animals were valued at many thousands of dollars and will be hard to replace. The loss of today's business at Montreal would be no inconsiderable sum of itself, as the two performances would probably have brought in $15,000 or more.
Partner Bailey, who was on the last section of the train, was on hand early to count up losses. He thinks a defective axle has cost the concern at least $40,000 in animals killed and injured. Trains on the R. W. and O. Railroad were delayed about fourteen hours by the accident and some of the delegates bound for the G. A. H. encampment at Milwaukee had to stop in Norwood all of that time waiting for the track to be cleared. The accident occurred in a level piece of country where there were no high embankments on the railroad. But for this there would have been a much greater loss to the Barnum & Bailey show, and perhaps serious loss of human life.

New York World New York 1889-08-24