Belatedly, an Anniversary

Hard to believe that, yet again, I’ve let the anniversary of the Chatsworth Wreck pass with no mention. For newcomers, the wreck took place about midnight on August 10, 1887, when an excursion train to Niagara Falls plunged off a small trestle over a culvert two and a half miles east of Chatsworth, Illinois. If you’re not from the town or one nearby, or if you’re great-great-grandparents weren’t on the train, or if they didn’t just miss it, you’ve never heard of the event. But about 85 people died in the wreck, one of the deadliest train accidents in history to that point (though, thinking about it, already dwarfed by other transportation disasters, like the sinking of the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi immediately after the Civil War).

In the past, Chatsworth marked the anniversary with gatherings of survivors and rescuers, the latter sometimes exhibiting souvenirs taken from the train. Once, about 35 or 40 years ago, a Chicago psychic named Irene Hughes was invited to the wreck site for a midnight gathering at which she tried to channel images of the event. Apparently not one to disappoint, she sat on a chair in the middle of the now little-used Toledo, Peoria & Western tracks and offered a few random images — for instance, a train crew running for help and the suffocating sensation of a victim trapped in the wreckage. She swore she hadn’t researched the event beforehand.

Next year: The disaster’s 120th anniversary. Wonder whether Chatsworth has anything special planned.

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