Journey Indiana – “An Appalling Catastrophe”: The Purdue Train Wreck of 1903

Journey Indiana – “An Appalling Catastrophe”: The Purdue Train Wreck of 1903


WE HAVE THE PURDUE TRAIN WRECK OF 1903.>>THIS BECAME NATIONAL NEWS. THIS WAS A BIG NEWS STORY. 17 PEOPLE DYING IN A TRAIN ACCIDENT WAS BIG NEWS 1903, AS IT WOULD BE TODAY.>>IN 1925, INDIANA UNIVERSITY AND PURDUE UNIVERSITY FOUNDED THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET, A TRAVELING TROPHY TO AWARDED TO THE LONGSTANDING RIVALRY BETWEEN TWO FOOTBALL TEAMS. THE TRADITION BETWEEN THE TWO SCHOOLS WAS MORE THAN 30 YEARS OLD, A RIVALRY SO INTENSE THAT WITHIN THE FIRST TEN YEARS THAT BY 1903, BOTH COLLEGE PRESIDENTS DETERMINED THAT THE GAME AT THE TIME COULD NO LONGER BE PLAYED AT THEIR RESPECTIVE CAMPUSES BUT INSTEAD MUST BE PLAYED AT A NEUTRAL SITE IN INDIANAPOLIS.>>1903 WAS SCHEDULED TO BE THE 11th GAME BETWEEN THE TWO SCHOOLS. PURDUE WON SEVEN OF THE 11 GAMES. THEY WERE TRYING TO GET THEIR GLORY AGAINST PURDUE AND PURDUE HAD THE A REPUTATION TO MAINTAIN.>>COMING TO INDIANAPOLIS WAS AN EFFORT TO CONTROL THE HOOLIGANISM AT THE GAMES, ON BOTH CAMPUSES. THEY DECIDED, LET’S TRY A NEUTRAL SITE.>>FOOTBALL WAS VERY MUCH LIKE IT IS TODAY. YOU COME TO THE I.U. OR PURDUE HOME FOOTBALL SATURDAY, THE CAMPUS IS EXCITING! YOU CAN JUST FEEL IT. IT’S ELECTRIC.>>AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY PURDUE HAD THE UPPER HAND IN FOOTBALL, AS IT DID IN MANY ASPECTS OF THE EDUCATIONAL AND FINANCIAL ASPECTS OF THE UNIVERSITY IN CITIZEN. LED BY WINTHROP STONE, PURDUE WAS A NATIONAL LEADER IN SCIENCES AT THE TIME WHEN THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION WAS MODERNIZING AMERICA. PURDUE FOOTBALL TEAMS HAD THAT LEADERSHIP TOO. INDIANA UNIVERSITY WAS 50 YEARS OLDER AND MANY REGARDS IT WAS CONSIDERED A BACK WATER UNIVERSITY WITH KNEW NAVIGABLE ROADS IN THE SOUTHERN HILL COUNTRY OF MONROE COUNTY.>>BLOOMINGTON WAS VERY, VERY REMOTE AREA TO CARRY A STATE UNIVERSITY TAG. LAFAYETTE IS IN A MUCH MORE TRAFFICKED AREA BETWEEN INDIANAPOLIS AND CHICAGO AND A MAIN ARTERY?>>1903, I.U.’S NEW PRESIDENT, WELL LOWE BRIAN WAS OUT TO CHANGE. THAT THE INDIANA STATE LEGISLATURE WAS CURRENTLY DEBATING WHICH SCHOOL WOULD HOST A NEW MEDICAL COLLEGE, WHICH WOULD MEAN GREAT PRESTIGE AND SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM THE STATE. BY 1903, BOTH INDIANA AND PURDUE WERE IN A HEATED BATTLE TO DETERMINE WHICH UNIVERSITY WOULD CLAIM THE NEW MEDICAL SCHOOL.>>THEY BECAME INVOLVED IN A VERY INTENSE BATTLE OVER WHO WAS GOING TO HAVE THE PUBLIC MEDICAL SCHOOL, WHICH WAS GOING TO BE LOCATED IN INDIANAPOLIS. THAT ARGUE. MADE A PURDUE/I.U. BASKETBALL GAME LOOK LIKE A SUNDAY SCHOOL PICNIC.>>BRIAN WAS BOUND TO BOOST THE PROFILE OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY IN ANY WAY HE COULD AND TO BRIAN, ATHLETICS WAS ONE WAY FOR I.U. TO GAIN GROUND ON PURDUE.>>THE PURDUE FOOTBALL GAME WAS ALWAYS STRONG. THEY HAD A REPUTATION FOR DOMINATING ON THE FEEL. THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME BOILERMAKERS WAS THEY PLAYED WABASH COLLEGE AND TRAMPLED THEM, BASICALLY AND THE NEWSPAPER SAID THEY WENT ON THE FIELD LIKE BURLY BOILERMAKERS AND WON THE DAY.>>MOST FANS AND SPORTS REPORTERS OF THE DAY RECOGNIZED PURDUE AS A CLEAR FAVORITE IN THE ANNUAL CONTEST, THE BOILERMAKERS WERE LED BY THREE ALL CONFERENCE PLAYERS, FULLBACK HARRY LESLIE AND SIMEON MILLER, WHO THEY DUBBED AS A REAL LADIES’ MAN ON CAMPUS AND E.C. ROBERTSON, THE FEARLESS SON OF A RANCHER FROM EAST HELEN, MONTANA. ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORT WAS STRONG ON GAME DAY, AMONG 1500 PURDUE FANS WHO BOARDED A SPECIALLY COMMISSIONED TRAIN HEADED TO INDIANAPOLIS ON OCTOBER 31st, 1903.>>THE PURDUE COMMERCIAL TRAIN CARRIED EVERYBODY WHO WAS GOING FROM LaFAYETTE TO THE FOOTBALL GAME. THAT INCLUDED THE FOOTBALL TEAM, COACHES, TRAINERS, BOOSTERS, COMMUNITY MEMBERS WHO WERE INTERESTED IN SEEING THE GAME OR IN SUPPORTING THE TEAM. THE BAND WAS THERE. SEVERAL HUNDRED STUDENTS AS WELL AS FACULTY MEMBERS, PROFESSORS, EVEN THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY WINTHROP STONE AND HIS FAMILY WERE ON THE TRAIN.>>AT 10:15 A.M., TWO MILES NORTH OF INDIANAPOLIS, THE PURDUE TRAIN RUMBLED INTO TOWN, RUNNING LATE, ROUNDING A BEND AND MAKING THE FINAL PUSH INTO THE DOWNTOWN AREA, THE ENGINEER OF THE PURDUE TRAIN BLARED HIS ALL CLEAR SIGNAL, JUST SECONDS BEFORE LOOKING UP IN HORROR TO SEE A SERIES OF COAL CARS PARKED ON THE TRACKS DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF IT. THE LOG BOOKS FOR THE COAL COMPANY HAD NO RECORD OF A SPECIALLY COMMISSIONED TRAIN COMING FROM LaFAYETTE THAT MORNING AND NOW SECONDS BEFORE IMPACT, THE HORRIBLE REALITY OF THIS TERRIBLE MISCOMMUNICATION WAS ABOUT TO COLLIDE WITH STARK AND SUDDEN CONSEQUENCES.>>THE PURDUE SPECIAL WAS INTERMINGLED WITH WOODEN CARS AND METAL CARS BECAUSE OF THE WAY IT WAS PIECED TOGETHER FROM EXTRA CARS THAT THE RAILWAY COMPANY HAD AVAILABLE. THE FRONT PASSENGER CARS ON THIS TRAIN WERE WOODEN, WHICH MEANS THAT THEY BROKE APART UPON IMPACT. IT’S HARD TO TELL WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF METAL CARS HAD BEEN IN THE FRONT, BUT THEY MAY HAVE ABSORBED THE WRECK A LITTLE BIT BETTER. THE FRONT CAR, THE ONE THAT HAD THE TEAM ON IT, BASICALLY DISINTEGRATED UPON IMPACT.>>IT WAS DEVASTATING. THE ENGINE WENT UP OVER THE COAL CARS. THE SECOND CAR, WITH THE PURDUE FOOTBALL TEAM IN IT ALSO WENT UP. THEY DESCRIBED THE CAR AS BEING SPLIT IN TWO, AND BEING KINDLING BY THE TIME IT WAS OVER. THAT WOODEN CAR WAS JUST DESTROYED.>>MOST FELT A JOLT AND WERE UNINJURED. THE PRESIDENT STONE RAN TO THE FRONT.>>HE FELT A STRONG SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY AS THE DEFACTO PARENT FOR THE STUDENTS AT HIS UNIVERSITY. HE FELT RESPONSIBLE TO THE PARENTS WHO HAD SENT THEIR KIDS TO PURDUE. HE RECEIVED LETTERS AND TELEGRAMS CONSTANTLY, TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS GOING ON.>>YOU KNOW, THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD THERE THAT HEARD THE CRASH. WOMEN CAME RUNNING WITH BUCKETS OF WATER AND RAGS, YOU KNOW TO TEND TO THE WOUNDS OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE WOUNDED.>>30 MINUTES AFTER THE ACCIDENT, THE HOOSIER SPECIAL, CARRYING 1,000I.U. TEAM MEMBERS AND PASSENGERS AND FANS, THEIR CHEERS AND SINGING WERE ABRUPTLY INTERRUPTED AS NEWS OF THE DOESN’T A MILE NORTH OF THEM QUICKLY SPREAD THROUGH THE STATION. IMMEDIATELY, INDIANA UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL PLAYERS AND FANS FAN TO THE ACCIDENT SITE TO HELP THEIR FALLEN COMRADES.>>WELL, I THINK, IT CERTAINLY SHOWS THAT PURDUE AND I.U., ALTHOUGH WE ARE TREMENDOUS RIVALS IN ATHLETICS, WE ARE ONE STATE. AND WE’RE FOR INDIANA. WE ARE FOR THE STATE OF INDIANA. WE ARE FOR THE PEOPLE OF INDIANA. THAT’S WHAT WE DO THIS FOR AND WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN, WE’RE TOGETHER.>>AS THE BODIES OF THE DEAD AND INJURED WERE REMOVED FROM THE SCENE, THEY WERE BEING SENT TO THE APPROPRIATE LOCATIONS. SO INJURED PEOPLE WERE BEING SENT TO THE HOSPITALS VERY QUICKLY, AND THOSE WHO WERE PRESUMED DEAD ALREADY, WENT TO THE CORONER’S OFFICE.>>WITHIN THE FIRST 24 HOURS, AS NEWS OF THE ACCIDENT SPREAD ACROSS THE HEADLINE, OF LOCAL, REGIONAL AND NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS, TELEGRAMS BEGAN TO POUR INTO AN INTEREST YAP LIST L ROOM, FROM WINSTON STONE. FRANTIC NOTES BEGGING HIS OFFICE TO RESPOND QUICKLY, SOME NEWS WERE ENCOURAGING AND OTHERS WERE NOT SO ENCOURAGING. E.C. ROBERTSON, THE SON OF THE MONTANA RANCHER. HIS PARENTS DID NOT FIND OUT ABOUT HIS DEATH FOR THREE DAYS BECAUSE THE COMMUNICATION WAS SO SLOW.>>THE SCENE OF THIS WRECK WAS GRUESOME. IT WAS BLOODY. PEOPLE WERE DESTROYED. YOU KNOW, MANY OF THE INJURED HAD TERRIBLE INJURIES, BUT THERE WAS NO WAY THAT THEY COULD HAVE SURVIVED.>>AMONG THE MOST SENSATIONAL THAT EXPLODED INTO THE SCENE ON OCTOBER 31st, 1903 WAS THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT SURROUNDED FULLBACK HARRY LESLIE, ON BOARD THE FIRST TRAIN CAR THAT ABSORBED THE GREATEST IMPACT OF THE ACCIDENT, LESLIE AND SEVERAL OF HIS TEAMMATES WERE THROWN MORE THAN 20 FEET THROUGH THE AIR, LANDING ON A PILE OF COAL ALONGSIDE THE TRACKS. FEELING NO PULSE, A MEDICAL ASSISTANT ON THE SCENE DECLARED LESLIE DEAD, AND UPON EXAMINATION, HIS ARM SUDDENLY TWITCHED. LESLIE SURVIVED MORE THAN FIVE HOURS OF EMERGENCY SURGERY.>>THERE WASN’T EVEN A TELEGRAPH OFFICE AT THE UNIVERSITY. IT WAS IN DOWNTOWN LaFAYETTE. SO PEOPLE HAD TO GO BACK AND FORTH FROM LaFAYETTE TO WEST LaFAYETTE TO CONVEY THESE MESSAGES. FACULTY MEMBERS AT THE UNIVERSITY, ONE THEY WERE AWARE OF THE SITUATION, FIELDED THESE MESSAGES AS BEST THEY COULD.>>THE INDIANAPOLIS JOURNAL, WHO COVERED THE EVENTS IN 1903, CALLED IT CATASTROPHE. IN ALL, 17 PEOPLE, INCLUDING 14 FOOTBALL PLAYERS DIED IN THE PURDUE TRAIN WRECK OF 1903. PRESIDENT STONE WAS WROUGHT WITH EMOTIONS. FOR WEEKS HE BATTLED THE COAL COMPANIES IN COURT TO SEEK JUSTICE FOR THE COAL CARS THAT ERRANTLY SCHEDULED ON THE TRACKS OPEN THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 31st, 1903. HIS BATTLE ONLY MAXES FAMILIES $3,500 PER LIFE LOST IN A GENERAL SETTLEMENT THAT THEN CLEARS THE COAL COMPANIES OF ANY OTHER WRONGDOING. THE RESULTS CRUSHED PRESIDENT STONE’S SPIRITS SO MUCH SO THAT BATTLES OVER I.U. OVER THE MEDICAL SCHOOL, HE COULDN’T BATTLE HIS IN-STATE RIVALRY ANYMORE. I.U. GAINED CONTROL OF THE MEDICAL SCHOOL IN 1908.>>THERE WAS A CALL CONSTRUCT A MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM IN HONOR OF THOSE WHO DIED. IT SEEMED LIKE A FITTING TRIBUTE TO THOSE WHO DIED ON THEIR WAY TO A FOOTBALL GAME. IT WOULD REINVIGORATE THE SPIRIT OF ATHLETICS AT PURDUE, AND DOING IT IN HONOR OF THOSE PEOPLE, SEEMED LIKE A GOOD STEP FORWARD.>>OPENING IN 1909, THE PURDUE MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM HOSTED HOSTED EVENTSFOR SEVERAL YEARS. THERE’S ONE STEP FOR EACH LIFE LOST ON THAT FATEFUL DAY. PRESIDENT STONE MADE SURE THAT THE FACULTY MEMBERS ATTENDED EACH ONE OF THE FUNERALS HELD IN EVERY AREA. INCLUDING ONE FACULTY MEMBER WHO WROTE MORE THAN 1600 MILES TO ATTEND THE FUNERAL OF E.C. ROBERTSON IN EAST HELENA, MONTANA. EVEN THOUGH HE WALKED WITH A CANE DUE HIS INJURIES HARRY LESLIE RETURNED TO PURDUE TO EARN HIS DEGREE, AND EVENTUALLY ENTER POLITICS. HE WAS ELECTED INDIANA’S 33rd GOVERNOR IN 1928.>>THE TRAIN WRECK HAS BEEN A BIG PART OF PURDUE HISTORY. THE STRAIN

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