On June 22, 1918, at about 4 am, the Hagenback-Wallace Circus train was heading toward Hammond, Indiana, carrying 400 performers and roustabouts. The train stopped near Ivanhoe in order to cool an overheated wheel bearing box. Red lights were turned on to warn any other approaching trains that a train had stopped on the tracks.

An empty troop train was approaching at full speed from behind, piloted by engineer Alonzo Sargent, who had previously been fired for sleeping on the job. Ignoring the red lights, and the efforts of a flagman to signal the oncoming train, it plowed into the back of the circus train, destroying three cars before finally coming to a halt.

A fire then broke out. Survivors of the crash, trapped under the wreckage, were unable to free themselves and escape the flames. An estimated 86 people died in the accident.

Most of the dead were never identified. Circus performers were often known only by nicknames, and many had joined only recently. The stones shown here are labeled "Baldy" and "4 Horse Driver"; almost all of the others simply read "Unknown Male", followed by a number.

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus only missed a single performance, the one in Hammond. By the next day they had borrowed enough acts from other circuses to be able to put on the scheduled show in Beloit, Wisconsin.

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Graveyards of Chicago - © 1997 Matt Hucke.