The 1903 Circus Train Wreck: Durand, Michigan
On August 6, 1903, a circus train wreck in Durand killed 26 people (some sources say 22, others 23), an Arabian horse, three camels, an elephant, and a Great Dane… and injured many others. Some sources say up to 121 were hurt.
What happened? The circus company traveled in two trains with a total of 70 cars; the head train was stationary on the tracks when the second train crashed into it at 15 miles per hour. It sounds as if it wasn’t fast enough to cause damage, but it sure did, killing up to 15 circus employees who were sleeping in the rear car of the first train. The engineer of the second train claimed the air brakes didn’t work while the railroad superintendent says the brakes weren’t applied at all, even though the first train had hung a red light in the back to signal them to stop.
According to an article in the 08-08-1903 edition of the New York Times: “The dead, many of them so mangled that identification seemed well-nigh impossible, were carefully laid on the grass a short distance from the scene.”
The Owosso Argus Press stated, "The scene that followed is indescribable, the cries and groans from the injured persons and frightened passengers, the roars from the terrified animals and the escaping steam aroused the whole city...”
Ten bodies were unidentified and buried with a group marker in Durand's Lovejoy Cemetery. One person was identified and removed to New York. The remaining nine are still unidentified and unclaimed. You can visit the cemetery on Prior Road in Durand and see the memorial monument for yourself; some of the names are getting hard to read but you can’t miss this monument. It’s on your left as you enter the cemetery.
It’s a piece of Michigan history that is worth seeking out if you take a Michigan roadtrip. And it’s never a bad idea to pay respects to past Michiganders.
THE DURAND CIRCUS TRAIN WRECK OF 1903
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