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The 65th Anniversary Of The Naperville Train Crash

The 65th Anniversary Of The Naperville Train Crash
By Barek Halfhand

April 25th 2011 at 1:03 pm marked the 65th anniversary of one of the worst railroad accidents in American history leaving 43 dead and 125 injured …I arrived in far west suburban Naperville at
12:35pm…

April 25th 1946 started out as cloudy with possible rain but turned to predominately sunny skies by late morning in Chicago with average high temperatures reaching the mid 50′s…but this early Spring weather was probably of little consequence to the commingling Union Station passengers that congregated outside the platforms, strolled the concessions stands or lounged on one the wooden benches in the ornate, vaulted skylight expanse of the Beaux-Arts designed Grand Hall concourse…This historic architectural landmark has been featured in movies such as The Untouchables, Flags Of Our Fathers, The Sting, Silver Streak, Code Of Silence and Raw Deal among others …Those awaiting their train’s departure here were likely transfixed by the suffused sunbeams that would often form intricate geometric patterns on the floor courtesy of the diamond shaped windows above …Some may have mulled over the day’s headlines in The Chicago Tribune or Sun-Times…The headlines for that same late April day the previous year in 1945 was dominated by WW2 headlines…such as heralding the conjoining of two Russian army regiments within the Berlin city limits as an important benchmark in the allied war efforts that hammered away at Hitler’s decimated war machine and now had him huddled in his bunkers…While many mourned the untimely death of President Roosevelt, they felt that the promise of prosperity by way of his New Deal policies even in the face of a war strapped government bankruptcy, would be delivered by FDR’s Vice President and successor: Harry S. Truman as commander and chief and as a sort of curator of FDR political legacy…These latest advances into the
3rd Reich’s backyard, the invasion of Okinawa and other recent successful milestones in the War Of The Pacific instilled a hubristic sense of optimism for an immanent end to the war and an economic upswing…

In sharp contrast, the predominate news stories only a year later in 1946 were all related to America’s favorite pastime: Baseball, with only side column mention of  the Socialistic Einheitspartei Germany party forming in East Germany…In a city itself swept up in the viral baseball fever and enamored with their Cubs in the wake of the 1st baseball broadcast in Chicago featuring the Cards vs Cubs on April 20th, the newspaper headlines for April 25th was monopolized by stories related to 11 players inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame…1946 was the year that brought us “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the first microwave oven and the first car phone…gas was 15 cents a gallon and music of Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Perry Como and the Andrews Sisters permeated the radio airwaves…born on that year was George W. Bush, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee Jones, Candice Bergen, Steven Spielberg, Dolly Parton, Freddie Mercury, Susan Sarandon , Sally Fields, Jimmy buffet and Theodore Bundy amongst others …

The transformation of steam to diesel powered locomotives transpiring nationwide by way of Smoke Abatement , air pollution and Clean Air legislation that started as early as the late 20′s had a dramatic effect on all modes of personal and logistical transportation …these new environmental regulatory statutes radically changed the air quality and general tidiness of the Union Station depot loading platforms …anyone that has had any experience related to a coal knows that with it comes a fine layer of soot regardless of efforts to contain, manage or remove it…the passengers that filed in and out of the trains as either daily commuters or transient travelers alike probably welcomed this change …

West bound passengers of the Advance Flyer and Exposition Flyer probably marveled at the sleek, streamline new designs of diesel locomotives and assorted cars that consisted of a varying combination of state-of-the-art sleepers, coach, dining and cargo cars of the Burlington Northern and Quincy Railroad that was the Amtrak equivalent of the day…the trains were reported to have disembarked almost simultaneously at 12:35 pm from Chicago on different tracks leading from the main depot were they would later converge on a shared railway somewhere before Halsted Street and accelerate to speeds often in excess of 80-85 miles per hour with only a buffer of mere minutes between them…The Advance Flyer was en route to Omaha Nebraska followed by The Exposition Flyer which was heading towards San Francisco CA. and both of their almost capacity passenger compliments included armed forces servicemen returning from the European theater…There were not scheduled stops in Illinois so the city scape probably transformed rapidly from metropolitan to suburban main street stations and even a few remaining spotted rural scenes beyond Clarendon Hills and Westmont, but surely the specter of urban decay and the gang graffiti of inner city plight we Chicago bound Metro Rail commuters try to ignore was not a scenery spoiler for these travelers of yesteryear …

At some point crew members aboard the Advance Flyer observed an unidentified object ejected from the underside of one of the carriages as they approached the Naperville city limits and the engineer was forced to make an unscheduled stop at the Loomis Street station to check for damages and conduct an impromptu safety inspection…the engineer of Exposition Flyer speeding along a disputed excessive speed speed 80 plus miles an hour did not see the red warning light and by the time he did visually identify the impeded train and frenzied flag waver ahead, the indefatigable leviathan juggernaut slammed into the last car of the Advance Flyer with such velocity, impact and unimaginable force that it literally split the last car in two up the middle…what followed was a scene of confusion, shock, devastation, carnage, twisted metal wreckage and the tumultuous caterwauling of pain and cries for help …

The momentum of the Exposition Flyer did not stop at the rear car, it tore savagely through the next car and buckled the following before derailing and tossing the remaining coaches to their sides like a
model railroad hit by a basketball…bodies, blood and gore was intermingled with the twisted metallic mess and before the dust, smoke and snowflake like pieces of the train’s insulation could settle, people poured from businesses, stores, factories, homes and even the nearby North Central College to assist with the frantic search and rescue efforts…many of the N.C. College students arrived on the scene with dorm mattresses in tow to serve as stretchers …ambulance raced back and forth to ferry the injured to what then were the closest hospitals located in Wheaton and neighboring Aurora …the Kroehler Furniture Company factory served as a temporary triage …the dead were lined up a row along the front yards of houses adjacent to the tracks before the 3pm bell of a nearby elementary school and curious youngsters racing to the scene triggered a harried effort to relocate the victims and the body parts strewn on or near the tracks to the to Kroehler building which now also doubled as a makeshift morgue…The most consistent count that I have been able to ascertain through hours of internet and library searches stands at 43 dead and 125 wounded…the point of impact, the scattered debris and the few trailing cars of the Exposition Flyer that remained on the tracks started at the Loomis Street crossing and extended almost as far back to the Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery which is also rumored
to be the site of supernatural disturbances in addition to that block long stretch of railroad tracks, the historic Kroehler Furniture Company building (5th Street Station) and the houses nearby…

I stopped along the way to get some shots of the North Central College buildings and a huge cathedral near the Loomis Street crossing destination where I was fortunate enough to find a parking spot nearby …I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the freight and commuter trains rumbled by as frequently as every 10 minutes or so and as I made my way to the lowered crossing gate for some shots of the steel stampede streaming by, I noticed an elderly gentleman sporting a jacket with a some type of classic railroad enthusiast insignia …I crossed to the corner where he was reverently observing the passing freighter and as soon as he noticed the camera he proceeded to ask me if I was “so and so” that he was supposed to meet there to commemorate the anniversary and discuss his collaboration on a book about the crash that was already in already in the works …this lead to a lengthy discussion about the accident and the joint writing endeavors to which he was aspiring…he conceded that tracking down survivors of the crash or their relatives was proving to be a daunting task but felt confident in 2012 as a firm publication objective…being the affable history buff he comported himself to be, I took the opportunity to collate the facts I had surrounding the crash since there are many inconsistencies and conflicting reports on the net …

Surprisingly I had the majority of my facts straight and the last thing I confirmed was the actual crash time as 1:03pm which he also validated but with a chuckle reminded me that since daylight saving time was not in effect in 1946, the actual wreck time would be 2:03pm …Even though I implied that my interest was more history related, he intimated one particular past crash anniversary date when he returned to this site and there were what he described as “Occultists” lingering about the area claiming that the spirits of the departed passengers hover overhead every year … “One of them was holding these thin sticks or wires” he said…”dowsing rods?” I offered, “yes and they were moving back in forth in his hands in a way that still spooks me” …”I try to stay away from that sort of thing and not think about it” he continued, “ I have had a few things happen to me that I couldn’t explained and…and I just prefer not to think about it” shrugging it of with a insincere chuckle before changing the subject …I think many just prefer “not to think about it” the more I try to nonchalantly interject supernatural related subjects into conversations with people not involved with it (or obsessed with it )…

I thanked him for his sharing his acumen regarding railroad history and decided to make my way across the tracks to the 5th Avenue Station (the Kroehler Furniture Company factory building) and down the street westward to the track-side cemetery before doubling back at 2:03pm that was the actual 1:03pm of 1946 (ugh) …

There is a sort of mall mezzanine hallway between offices on the 1st floor of the 5th avenue Station with an assortment of reality offices, interior design showrooms, indeterminate businesses and restaurants …at the far end of the hallway was the leasing office for the loft and studio apartments available for rental, the overhead ceiling is unusually low and the visible pipes and wiring infrastructure just overhead added to the cluttered sense of claustrophobic confinement…and while many elect to take the day after Easter Sunday off, there was a highly unusual crypt like lifelessness about the place even for a post holiday …

The Saints Peter and Paul Parish Cemetery less than a block east of the crash site is an odd little island surrounded by homes, the Columbia St. overpass and of course the railroad tracks …there are many graves dating back to the mid 1800′s and a strange stone edifice with a Madonna statue perched in an upper promontory, and a concave chamber below…my guess is that is intended to represent Christ’s burial chamber in Jerusalem…the cemetery seems bedeviled by the relentless man-made seismic activity endemic to property adjacent to freight routes this active…the ground rattling railway reverberations literally shakes the ground beneath your feet at least every quarter to half hour…the warning horn wailing from the locomotive is literally loud enough to wake the dead,  or so it is said….

Here’s the related YouTube video:

Here are the (compressed to 1MB) photos…some have been slightly sharpened or color enhanced (4-25-2011)85 total….b
http://s1098.photobucket.com/albums/g363/FoundersHill/The%2065th%20Anniversary%20Of%20The%20Naperville%20Train%20Crash/

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