The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Currents

February 5, 2012

Tragedy at McCann’s Crossing

Geneva circus owner Walter L. Main suffered heavy loss in 1893 crash

Frank Train had grown wearly  of traveling with the Walter L. Main Monster Show, based in Geneva City and Trumbull Township.

Train, an Indianapolis resident, had been with the show for several years and was well respected in the circus industry as a ticket seller and treasurer, the roles he played in Main’s operation. But on Saturday, May 27, 1893, Train told Main that he was resigning and handing over the accounts, tickets and money to E.C. White. Train wanted to go home.

It was early in the season, and Main depended upon Train’s experience to make sure the show ran smoothly. He thus coaxed Train into staying at least until the circus reached Lewiston, Pa., on May 30. After that, he’d be free to go home.

The morning of Train’s last day with the circus thus found him riding inside the ticket wagon, which was lashed to one of the 14 flat cars on which the wagons and animals traveled. Train insisted upon sleeping in the ticket wagon rather than a sleeper car; naturally, the treasurer wanted to be close to the money and its intake valve, the ticket window, even as he slept.

Shortly before 5:30 a.m. Train awoke to a sickening sensation. The circus train, which was supposed to descend the mountain into Tyrone at a maximum of 15 miles per hour, was accelerating far beyond the safe speed. The telegraph poles flashed by the ticket wagon, which was beginning to rock back and forth as the train barely hugged the rails of the Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad.

James Strayer and John E. Eddings also were having a hard time holding onto their seats on another circus wagon. The Houtzdale buddies had hitched a ride on the train earlier that morning, hoping to get some work with the circus and see the show. As the rocking and speed increased, the men scrambled off the wagon and onto a canvas, where they waited for the inevitable crash.

Soon, the train was running at 40 miles per hour, far too fast for the sharp curves and damp rails. As the entourage passed McCann’s Crossing and encountered a sharp reverse curve, all 14 of the flat cars left the tracks and plunged down a 15-foot embankment at the Tyrone end of the curve. As the Houtzdale men felt their car leave the track, they both made a jump to safety. Eddings scratched his face when he hit the ground, but otherwise survived. Strayer fell a few feet from him. Eddings reached out to his buddy, who was talking but couldn’t move. An hour later, Strayer was dead.

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