Little Bits of History

October 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2017

1903: Two trains collide in Indianapolis, Indiana. Two special trains were operated by the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (also called the Big Four Railroad) and were carrying over 1,500 passengers from Lafayette, Indiana to Indianapolis. There was a heated football rivalry between Indiana University and Purdue University. The game was being played for the first time in “neutral” territory at Washington Park, located in Indianapolis. A coal train, unaware of the special trains approaching, backed out onto the main railway line. The lead train rounded a curve and the coal train was blocking the tracks.

The engineer of the special train was able to throw the engine into reverse and set the brake. He then jumped clear of the engine. Unable to actually stop the train, it ran into the coal train and killed several people in the lead car. These were mostly players from the Purdue team. Seventeen people were killed in the accident, fourteen of them Purdue University football team players. Others from farther back in the train rushed forward to help the injured. A line of horse and buggies lined up near the wreckage and carried away the dead to the morgue and the injured to local hospitals. There were no ambulances and no cars at the scene. The second train was ten minutes behind the first and many of the uninjured ran back to stop the second train keeping even more from being injured.

Harry Leslie was taken to the morgue, presumed dead at the scene. He was captain of both the football and baseball teams at the time. He was a star player and in extremely good physical health. At the morgue, as the mortician was preparing to embalm Leslie, it was noted he still had a pulse. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. It would take several operations and Leslie was near death for several weeks. He did slowly recover and returned to school a year later. He graduated with a degree in law. He gained much notoriety from the Purdue Wreck, becoming a folk hero.

Leslie went on to graduate from Indiana Law School in 1907 and opened a law office in Lafayette. He then entered into the political arena first at a local level. He also sold his family farm and bought stock in a local bank, becoming the president until 1924. He was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and was Speaker of the House from 1925-1927. He went on to become the 33rd Governor of Indiana, holding the office from 1929 until 1933. After retiring from politics, he founded the Standard Life Insurance Company of Indianapolis. He was a great lover of comedy and was friends with both George Ade and Will Rogers. He was visiting Ade in Miami when he suddenly died from heart disease at the age of 59.

We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital. – Joseph Bradfield, Purdue student

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed. – Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. – Friedrich Schiller