“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Chatsworth in Livingston County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

The Chatsworth Wreck

Midnight August 10-11, 1887

The Chatsworth Wreck Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mary Runyon-Hanshew, circa 2001
1. The Chatsworth Wreck Marker
Inscription. One-half mile north on the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad occured one of the worst wrecks in American rail history. An excursion train- two engines and approximately 20 wooden coaches - from Peoria to Niagara Falls, struck a burning culvert. Of the 500 passengers, about 85 perished and scores were injured.
Erected 1954 by State of Illinois.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Illinois State Historical Society marker series.
Location. 40° 44.855′ N, 88° 15.09′ W. Marker is near Chatsworth, Illinois, in Livingston County. Marker is on U.S. 24 west of County Road 1200E, on the left when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Chatsworth IL 60921, United States of America.
Regarding The Chatsworth Wreck. From the Chatsworth Plaindealer, August 12, 1887

Eleven Cars Out of Fifteen Totally Demolished.

The residents of our quiet little village were awakened from their slumbers a few minutes before one o'clock Thursday morning by the fire alarm, and in but an instant, apparently, people were running
The Chatsworth Wreck image. Click for full size.
By A. H. Hall, 1887
2. The Chatsworth Wreck
Taken by local photographer, A.H. Hall the following day.
from all directions for the engine house, as no fire could be seen. Instantly it became generally known that the Niagara Falls excursion train from Peoria, which had passed through here at 12:45, had been wrecked by a burning bridge two miles east of town. A special train was immediately telegraphed for from Forrest, and as messengers brought in news of the wreck, it became apparent that some place be prepared for the reception of the dead and wounded, although the extent of the damage had not been imagined. Many went to the scene of the disaster on foot, in vehicles of all kinds, and in the special train, while others remained and made arrangements to care for the dead and wounded in the hall, which had been opened to use as a hospital. Upon arrival at the wreck, the sight was most terrible. While all had read of disastrous wrecks, none had been prepared for such a scene as was presented.

The first bridge west of the county line, and about fifty rods from the line, had caught fire and been slowly burning until the entire structure rested upon charred embers, and as the excursion train, which consisted of two engines, six sleepers, two chair cars, five coaches, one special and one baggage car, passed over, it gave way, and in an instant the entire train, with the exception of the last four cars, was precipitated to the ditch, and many were instantly killed, not knowing what had occurred, while hundreds realized what had happened only as they found themselves crushed and wedged between heavy timbers, unable to move, with the dead and dying laying in all shapes around them. It was too horrible to admit of description. The screams and moans of the wounded were heartrending, and the terror of the sight can not be imagined.

Just east of the bridge three cars were telescoped, and it is wonderful that anyone escaped alive from either of them, they were so totally demolished. What remains of General Supertendent E. N. ARMSTRONGís special car lies headed north and south, instead of east and west as the track runs, and the other cars are in a similar manner, damaged or destroyed. None of the occupants of his car were seriously injured.

The work of rescuing the victims from their numerous precarious situations was immediately begun, and the Chatsworth fire department deserves especial credit for their valor and the much needed assistance they rendered. As the cars fell, one crushing upon another, they were, in places, heaped twelve and fifteen feet into the air. To rescue the sufferers from these, a system of planks and ladders were used, and the wounded, dying and dead alike carried down to places of safety. To add to the terror of the scene a heavy thunder and lightening storm came up, and , with heavy rain made such a scene as would apall the bravest hearts. As fast as possible the wounded were brought in by the special train, that they might receive proper medical aid, but the number so far exceeded anything that had been expected, that the upper and lower rooms of the hall were soon filled, after which the school building was opened and many were taken there, while many others were taken to private houses. The FELKER building was used as a morgue, where the dead were brought from the wreck and left for identification.

[The school building sat directly across the street from the railroad depot. As of this writing I have not yet located where the Felker building was.]

The telegraph offices have been besieged with people wishing to communicate with friends and those expecting some tidings from anxious friends abroad.

Many especially terrible scenes were presented. Men and women reaching and hanging from the car windows and crushed to death while endeavoring to escape. Mothers holding their infants out of the windows, that they, at least, might be saved. Helpless infants and children who had been rescued, crying piteously for their parents, while many a mother rushed frantically about, vainly looking for her child who had perished in the wreck. Many, as they lay with broken and crushed limb and bodies, calling for relatives and friends who were with them in the wreck, were stricken with grief to hear that they were not yet found, or were among the dead or dying. Even the strongest men were forced to tears as they heard and saw the anguish of the unhappy excursionists. While many displayed strong courage, grit, and heroism, others were almost frantic, and those in attendence upon them were forced to hold them to prevent acts of insanity and self-destruction.
Also see . . .  Chatsworth Illinois Memories. For more information on the Chatsworth Wreck, visit this website. (Submitted on April 24, 2010, by Mary Runyon-Hanshew of Chatsworth, Illinois.) 
Additional keywords. historical, marker, chatsworth, illinois, railroad, wreck
Categories. Notable EventsRailroads & Streetcars
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Mary Runyon-Hanshew of Chatsworth, Illinois. This page has been viewed 893 times since then and 95 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on , by Mary Runyon-Hanshew of Chatsworth, Illinois. • J. J. Prats was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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