|This is my contribution to Round Twelve of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.|
In 1896 William George Crush created the second largest ‘city’ in Texas only to deliberately demolish it overnight in a publicity stunt that went catastrophically wrong.
Crush was a passenger agent for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, known as Katy, and he conceived the idea of demonstrating a train wreck as a public spectacle.
To that end he oversaw the building of the temporary Crush City in McLennan County and then set about promoting the event to the good people of Texas.
Crush planned and promoted the controlled collision for months beforehand. Admission was to be absolutely free and the company would charge no more than $5 for train travel to Crush from anywhere in Texas.
Furthermore, he promised his patrons that food concession contractors would not be allowed to sell lunches at extortionate prices, and that containers of ‘fresh Waco water’ would be abundant and free.
A grandstand was built and large tents were erected by the circus impresarios, the Ringling Brothers, and the stage was set on 15th September 1896.
The event was delayed by an hour as the large crowd refused police instructions to move back to a safe distance. Then at 5pm the two trains, pulling wagons loaded with railroad ties, were rolled to the opposite ends of the four mile track.
The engineers and crew opened the steam to a prearranged setting, rode for exactly four turns of the drive wheels, and jumped from the trains. Each train reached a speed of about 45 miles per hour by the time they met at Crush City.
That was when things went badly wrong. The impact in the collision was equal to about 50 kg of TNT as both engine boilers exploded and threw debris as large as half a drive-wheel hundreds of feet into the air.
Some of the debris came down among the spectators, killing three and injuring several more, while event photographer Jarvis ‘Joe’ Deane lost an eye to a flying bolt.
How Crush and Katy expected to benefit from the stunt isn’t clear, but the company immediately fired Crush. Strangely there was little or no negative publicity so he was re-hired the next day.
It seems likely that one of the spectators was the ragtime composer, Scott Joplin. He was certainly in the area at the time and a month later he copyrighted ‘The Great Crush Collision March’ to commemorate the crash.
The composition is notable because it includes instructions in the score on how to replicate the sounds of the trains’ collision and below is a video of the piece performed by Cory Hall.