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THE WANN DISASTER

 

 

Wann (or Alton) Junction, East Alton, IL

 

The Wann Disaster is the most horrific railroad tragedy that occurred in Madison County history, involving the greatest loss of life in a single incident, and the most numerous cases of personal injury. It occurred at the Wann Junction on the Big Four railroad, about 4 miles east of Alton, near the corner of Shamrock and Main in the present day village of East Alton.

 

On Saturday, January 21, 1893, the Southwestern Limited train on the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (also called the Big Four) left St. Louis at 8:05 AM, and was due at Wann Junction (originally called Alton Junction, in the city of Emerald; now part of East Alton) at 8:50 AM.  Howard Clelland was the Conductor of the five passenger cars drawn by engine No. 109. The engineer was Webb Ross of Mattoon, and the fireman was Richard White, also of Mattoon. The train was running at a higher rate of speed than usual, approaching a slight curve. Rounding the curve, it was instantly seen that a switch was mistakenly left open with a long line of oil tank cars on the siding. Fireman White immediately jumped, while Engineer Ross applied the brakes, but it was too late - the passenger train collided with the 25 oil tank cars. Initially, most passengers were not injured in the collision. Later, some of the oil tankers caught fire from the collision, and then an explosion followed, sending 7,000 gallons of burning oil, called "a rain of fire," fifty feet into the air. Engineer Ross was trapped alongside of his engine; oil poured over him, he was burned to a crisp. Fourteen box cars on the siding caught fire and burned like paper.  Another tank car which was burning suddenly exploded, and four others did so almost simultaneously, scattering the burning fluid in all directions. The large crowd of over 100 spectators were covered with burning oil, their flesh burned to a crisp. Seven more tank cars took fire and burned. Houses and trees caught fire and the stockyards also burned. All the houses near the scene of the disaster have been destroyed. Thousands of people rushed to the scene to do what they could to aid the injured and dying. The newspaper reports gradually revealed the details of a scene that was one of unspeakable horror.

 


 

 

[Note: The newspaper accounts became more accurate and descriptive of the disaster following the days after the accident. At first, the true horror was not known.]
 

 

ALTON TRAIN WRECK (THE WANN DISASTER)  Wann Junction, East Alton, IL
Source: The New York Times, New York, January 22, 1893
9 Killed, 12 Fatally Burned, Nearly 100 Injured.
The Catastrophe Followed a Bad Wreck on the Big Four-The Victims Were Watching Cars Burn When a Tank Car Exploded.
Alton, Ill., Jan. 21.-Nine persons killed outright, twelve fatally injured, and nearly a hundred more or less seriously injured is the appalling result of a series of accidents at Alton Junction today.
An open switch on the Big Four main track was the cause of the disaster. A Southern Limited ran through the switch into a freight train standing on the siding, and Engineer Webb Ross of the Limited was instantly killed. The wreck took fire, and, while a great crowd was watching the spectacle, an oil tank car exploded with terrible force, enveloping the spectators in a sheet of burning oil. Nine of them were instantly killed, and scores of them were frightfully burned, a dozen of whom at least, will die.

Killed: Engineer Webb Ross; Hiram Cornelius, student of Shurtliffe College, from Iowa; Edward Miller, of Alton Junction; Six other bodies not yet identified and burnt to a crisp.

Fatally Injured: Otta Hagarman, Alton Junction; Willie McCarthy, boy, Alton; Edward Maupin, St. Charles, Mo; George Staples, boy, Alto; John Suttrell, Alton; Joseph Herrmann, Alton; John Williams, Alton; John Fritz, Edwardsville Crossing; Frank Bartel, Stamford, Canada; A. Frazer, San Francisco; Lewis McIntosh, Alton; William McIntosh, Alton.

Severely Injured: E. M. Caldwell, Alton; Henry Pilgrim, Alton; Nathan Richardson, Alton; Henry Priney, Alton; Charles Harris, Alton; John Henry, Alton; John Sack, Alton; Patrick O'Mear, Alton; John Ziegler, Alton; James Montgomery, Upper Alton; James N. Murray, Upper Alton; ----- Monogham.

There are besides not less than seventy people more or less severely scalded who will be laid up for weeks. Alton Junction or Wann, is two miles east of this city, and is a watering, transfer and feeding station for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. The latter road joins the Big Four at this point, running into St. Louis over the same track. The fast through train, known as the Southwestern Limited, was coming out of St. Louis at 9 o'clock this morning thirteen minutes late, and making up lost time at a forty-seven-mile-an-hour speed, when it ran into a switch and collided with a long freight train consisting mostly of loaded tank cars. Engineer Webb Ross of Mattoon, saw the danger too late, but he threw on the air brake and staid (sic) with his machine, being buried in the wreck and burned to a crisp. Fireman White jumped and escaped uninjured. The passengers were fearfully shaken up, but none was seriously hurt. An eyewitness of the collision says that the shock was such as to split two loaded tanks wide open, and the oil immediately caught fire, the flames shooting fifty feet into the air. The locomotive and baggage car were totally wrecked, but the remainder of the passenger train was removed beyond the reach of the flames. In an incredibly short time the freight train was a mass of flames. Fear of an explosion prevented any attempt to save it. The wrecking train came up from East St. Louis at 11 o'clock, but could do little and half a dozen switch engines were run out from here to clear the yards. Traffic on the two roads was entirely suspended and a special train was made up on the Chicago and Alton to carry belated passengers through to St. Louis. Hearing of the wreck hundreds of people from this city and vicinity were attracted by curiosity to the scene. And then occurred on of the most awful disasters on record. A few minutes past 12 o'clock there was a slight explosion of one tank, which scattered the debris on all sides, setting fire to the stockyard's enclosures. This produced the impression that the danger of explosions was past, and the throng of bystanders rushed in to save the stockyards from destruction. A minute later there was a deafening report that shook the earth for one minute and spread one sheet of seething, burning oil in all directions. For those within the circle of 100 yards there was no escape. Their clothing was burned and literally fell from their bodies. In a moment those who were not disabled began running hither and thither, waving their hands and screaming for help. Some went to the nearest water and others ran into the fields and are missing yet. Panic reigned for a short time, until the uninjured recovered there presence of mind to care for the afflicted. Two barrels of linseed oil were taken from a grocery store and applied by several physicians who happened to be on the ground. Every house in the little village was turned into a temporary hospital, and every doctor in Alton and its vicinity was summoned. As soon as possible a train was made up and twenty of the sufferers were brought here to St. Joseph's Hospital. The loss was total. It included the engine of the limited, baggage car, and seven tank cars full of oil, eight box cars and half a dozen flat cars, all of these being completely destroyed. No accurate estimate can be made at present, but it will reach at least $100,000. Webb Ross, the brave engineer, who lost his life, left a wife and six children in Mattoon. No attempt to fix the blame for the fatal wreck has yet been made, and nothing further will be known until after the investigation of the Coroner's jury tomorrow.
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INTO AN OPEN SWITCH

The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, January 22, 1893

Alton, Ills., January 21 - The southwestern limited express, westbound on the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and St. Louis railroad, due here at 9 o'clock Saturday morning, ran into an open switch at Wann, four miles east of here, causing the death of Engineer Ross and injuring several passengers. The passenger train was late and running at the rate of forty miles an hour. Approaching Wann Station, the engine ran through an open switch and crashed into a train of freight cars standing on the siding. The locomotive split the caboose of the freight train and plowed it's way through several freight cars.

 

THE WRECK CATCHES FIRE

Three oil tanks exploded and scattered oil over the wreck, which immediately caught fire. The flames quickly spread and before they could be subdued or the remaining cars drawn away, four freight cars, three oil tanks, baggage car, smoker and the locomotive of the express train were completely destroyed. Just before the collision occurred, the firemen of the express engine leaped to the ground and escaped with slight injuries. Engineer Webb Ross, of this city [Alton], remained in the cab and was carried through the wreck. He was pinned in between the tender and boiler and covered with oil from the bursting tanks. He was literally boiled to death.

 

PASSENGERS SHAKEN UP

The passengers on the express train received a severe shaking up, but none of them were seriously hurt. The crew of the freight train saw the approaching locomotive in time to escape from the caboose in safety. A special train carrying surgeons and a wrecking crew left here at 9 o'clock and was soon at the scene of the accident. The tracks are badly blockaded and traffic will not be resumed for some time. Passengers, however, are being transferred to other lines. The material loss by the wreck will reach nearly $100,000.

 

ANOTHER EXPLOSION OF OIL

At noon, while a large gang of workmen were engaged in clearing away the wreck, the flames reached a gasoline tank, which exploded, scattering the blazing oil in all directions. Joseph Fitzpatrick and Andrew McMillan, section men, were badly burned and were taken to their homes at East St. Louis. Timothy Houlihan, another section man, was so badly burned that his death is expected. It is reported that nearly fifty spectators were more or less injured by burning oil, and many of them were carried in wagons to neighboring farm houses where they are receiving medical attendance.

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ALTON TRAIN WRECK (THE WANN DISASTER)

New York Times, New York, January 22, 1893

Alton, Ill., January 21, 1893 - Nine persons killed outright, twelve fatally injured, and nearly a hundred more or less seriously injured is the appalling result of a series of accidents at Alton Junction today. An open switch on the Big Four main track was the cause of the disaster. A Southern Limited ran through the switch into a freight train standing on the siding, and Engineer Webb Ross of the Limited was instantly killed. The wreck took fire, and, while a great crowd was watching the spectacle, an oil tank car exploded with terrible force, enveloping the spectators in a sheet of burning oil. Nine of them were instantly killed, and scores of them were frightfully burned, a dozen of whom at least, will die.

 

There are not less than seventy people more or less severely scalded who will be laid up for weeks. Alton Junction or Wann, is two miles east of this city [Alton], and is a watering, transfer and feeding station for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. The latter road joins the Big Four at this point, running into St. Louis over the same track. The fast through train, known as the Southwestern Limited, was coming out of St. Louis at 9 o'clock this morning, thirteen minutes late, and making up lost time at a forty-seven-mile-an-hour speed, when it ran into a switch and collided with a long freight train consisting mostly of loaded tank cars. Engineer Webb Ross of Mattoon saw the danger too late, but he threw on the air brake and stayed with his machine, being buried in the wreck and burned to a crisp. Fireman White jumped and escaped uninjured. The passengers were fearfully shaken up, but none was seriously hurt. An eyewitness of the collision says that the shock was such as to split two loaded tanks wide open, and the oil immediately caught fire, the flames shooting fifty feet into the air. The locomotive and baggage car were totally wrecked, but the remainder of the passenger train was removed beyond the reach of the flames. In an incredibly short time, the freight train was a mass of flames. Fear of an explosion prevented any attempt to save it. The wrecking train came up from East St. Louis at 11 o'clock, but could do little and half a dozen switch engines were run out from here to clear the yards. Traffic on the two roads was entirely suspended and a special train was made up on the Chicago and Alton to carry belated passengers through to St. Louis. Hearing of the wreck, hundreds of people from this city [Alton] and vicinity were attracted by curiosity to the scene. And then occurred one of the most awful disasters on record. A few minutes past 12 o'clock there was a slight explosion of one tank, which scattered the debris on all sides, setting fire to the stockyard's enclosures. This produced the impression that the danger of explosions was past, and the throng of bystanders rushed in to save the stockyards from destruction. A minute later there was a deafening report that shook the earth for one minute and spread one sheet of seething, burning oil in all directions. For those within the circle of 100 yards there was no escape. Their clothing was burned and literally fell from their bodies. In a moment those who were not disabled began running hither and thither, waving their hands and screaming for help. Some went to the nearest water and others ran into the fields and are missing yet. Panic reigned for a short time, until the uninjured recovered their presence of mind to care for the afflicted. Two barrels of linseed oil were taken from a grocery store and applied by several physicians who happened to be on the ground. Every house in the little village was turned into a temporary hospital, and every doctor in Alton and its vicinity was summoned. As soon as possible, a train was made up and twenty of the sufferers were brought here to St. Joseph's Hospital. The loss was total. It included the engine of the Limited, baggage car, and seven tank cars full of oil, eight box cars and half a dozen flat cars, all of these being completely destroyed. No accurate estimate can be made at present, but it will reach at least $100,000.  Webb Ross, the brave engineer who lost his life, left a wife and six children in Mattoon. No attempt to fix the blame for the fatal wreck has yet been made, and nothing further will be known until after the investigation of the Coroner's jury tomorrow.

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Wann Junction Train Station

 

DEAD AT ALTON JUNCTION - ELEVEN MORE VICTIMS OF THE DOUBLE DISASTER

New York Times, January 23, 1893

St. Louis, January 22 -- Eleven additional deaths up to 6 o'clock is the record of the dual catastrophe at Alton Junction since midnight last night. The total list of dead is as follows (listed below in chart)....(Injured listed below in chart)....Of the fatally injured, all are more or less seriously burned about the limbs and body, but the worst injuries sustained are fearfully-burned heads and faces. All are also injured internally from inhaling the burning flames, which scorched and parched their throats to such an extent that their escape from instant death is almost miraculous. The scenes in the wards occupied by the injured were even more heartrending than yesterday. Lying on cots, swathed in cotton and bandages until they almost lost semblance to human beings, and surrounded by weeping relatives and sorrowing friends, they formed a picture that brought tears to the eyes of even the physicians. The moaning of the patients were piteous. Seeming to know by intuition when the physician was near them, they would beg piteously to be relieved from their pain. "Doctor, for God's sake kill me and put me out of this misery," said one. Perhaps the most pitiful sight of all was that of thirteen year old Willie McCarty. Sitting on his bedside, trying in vain by gentle words and soothing caresses, while her voice trembled with the grief that was breaking her heart, was his mother. The boy's flesh was cooked from head to foot. His eyes were burned out, the skin had peeled off his face and head, taking with it large portions of the flesh. The only response the anxious mother received to her inquiry as to how he felt was "Oh! my head. Doctor, why can't I die?" Only these thought to be fatally injured were allowed to remain at the hospital. It was not until a visit was made to the morgue back of the hospital that the horrible reality of the accident became apparent. Here, awaiting the undertaker, were the bodies of five of those who died during the night. The bandages had been removed from the bodies. Scarcely one of the five could be recognized even by relatives. The oil, wherever it had touched the skin, had burned deep into the flesh, while such portions of the cuticle as escaped entire destruction were blistered, and in many cases were blackened by the intense heat. The lips were terribly swollen and discolored, and the eyes of all five were burned out entirely. Every vestige of hair was burned off face and head, and in many places the skull and cheek bones were exposed. The Coroner's inquest was held at the hospital, the jury having previously been in session at the Wann and Alton Junction. The verdict in each case states that death was caused by burning oil, accidentally exploded and thrown over them. The funerals of a number of the victims of the explosion will be held tomorrow morning; others will be consigned to their last resting place on Tuesday. Edward Miller was buried this afternoon at Alton Junction. There was a rumor this afternoon that eleven students from Shurtleff College had been missing since the accident. All efforts to verify the rumor failed, however, and it is the opinion of the majority of Alton citizens, that there is no truth in the statement. But the fact there were found this morning near the scene of the wreck, bodies additional to those reported in last night's dispatches gives rise to a probability that there may yet be more which have not been found.  When Mrs. William Mange reported to the Alton Police Department this morning that her husband, who had started for the scene of the accident about 10 o'clock yesterday morning, had not yet returned, a searching party was organized and after a long time the dead body of Mange was found near Wood River over half a mile from the place where the explosion occurred. Reports about the finding of Mange's body and others missing led to the finding of the other bodies, and when the reported left the city, other parties were out searching for additional victims.  The scene of the catastrophe was visited by hundreds today. No trace had been found up to 6 o'clock of the runaway switchman, Richard [A. L.] Grattan. A rumor that he had returned to his work this morning proved to be unfounded, and it is thought he has gone for good. The total loss to the company, so the officials state tonight, will be between $125,000 and $150,000. The railway company sent the remains of the dead engineer, Webb Ross, to Mattoon last night. One curious feature about the affair is that when the tanks exploded, the oil shot directly upward to a height of some two or three hundred feet, then, as if impaled by some central force, it suddenly shot in all directions, taking a circuitous course toward the ground. Louis Utt, who was instantly burned to death, was almost underneath one of the tanks and was scalded b oil that ran over the sides of the tank. The blazing flying oil was distinctly visible at Alton, four miles away. To have been visible there it must have reached a height of over 200 feet.

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TWENTY - ONE VICTIMS - TERRIBLE RESULT OF THE EXPLOSION NEAR ALTON, ILLS.

Source: Alton Telegraph, January 23, 1893

The explosion of an oil tank oat the railway wreck at Wann Saturday was much more disastrous than first reported. Sixteen people have died of their injuries and many more are believed to be fatally burned. At the morgue, wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, on being show the bodies of the beloved dead, shrank back in horror and could scarcely be convinced that the distorted features before them were all that remained of those so dear to them and whose taking away meant in some instances the loss of their sole support and rehance.

 

THE RUNAWAY SWITCHMAN

No trace has been found of the runaway switchman, Richard Grattan. A rumor that he had returned to his work Sunday morning proved to be unfounded, and it is thought he has gone for good. The total loss to the company, the officials state, will be between $125,000 and $150,000. The railway company sent the remains of the dead engineer, Webb Ross, to Mattoon Saturday night. One curious feature about the affair is that when the tanks exploded, the oil shot directly upward to a height of some two or three hundred feet, then, as if impelled by some central force, suddenly shot in all directions, taking a circuitous course toward the ground. Louis Utt, who was instantly burned to death, was almost underneath one of the tanks and was scalded by oil that ran over the sides of the tanks. The blazing, flying oil was distinctly visible at Alton, four miles away. To be visible there, it must have reached a height of over two hundred feet.

 

SOME GHASTLY FINDS

Numbers of ghastly finds have been the result of the search and two more terribly burned men have been discovered far from the place where they were overtaken by the flames. Both were alive, but will undoubtedly die. Pieces of flesh, numbers of hands, or the skin from hands with the finger nails still adhering were found, pieces of money melted together by the heat were picked up 300 yards away from the location of the exploded oil tank, while clothing thrown away as it burned on the bodies of the victims was to be found in every direction. The grass in the fields around is burned in many places, showing where the burning men and boys rolled in their agony. The hospitals are full and many private houses are crowded with the poor unfortunates, a large number of whom will undoubtedly die. A careful canvass of these places Sunday results in the finding of sixteen dead and fifty-seven wounded. Of the latter, probably fourteen will die before twenty-four hours have passed.

 

INHALED THE FLAMES

Of the fatally injured, all are more or less seriously burned about the limbs and body, but the worst injuries sustained are fearfully burned hands and faces. All are also injured internally from inhaling the burning flames, which scorched and parched their throats to such an extent that their escape from instant death is almost miraculous. The others injured suffer from burns on various parts on the head, limbs and body. When the awfulness of the catastrophe, as related by eye-witnesses who were fortunate enough to escape injury, is made known the only wonder is that the list of casualties is not twice as large as it is. By the time the bells were ringing for services Sunday morning, nearly the whole population was out on the streets, but for the majority St. Joseph's hospital seemed to be the objective point, and had the various clergymen, instead of holding forth in their usual places, gone up the little hill on which the hospital is situated they would have found congregated there a large majority of their communicants.

 

BEGGED TO BE KILLED

The scenes in the wards occupied by the injured were even more heartrending than Saturday. Lying on cots, wrapped and swathed in cotton and bandages until they almost lost semblance to human beings, and surrounded by weeping relatives and sorrowing friends, they formed a picture that brought tears to the eyes of even the physicians, accustomed as they are to such sights. The moaning of the patients were piteous. Every few moments some tortured person, writhing in agony, would half rise from his couch, then fall back, suffering more intense pain than before. Seeming to know by intuition when the physician was near them, they would beg to be relieved from their pain. "Doctor, for God's sake, kill me and put me out of this misery," said one. "O, for an instant's relief from this!" cried another.

 

ALMOST UNRECOGNIZABLE

At the morgue Sunday, awaiting the undertaker, were the bodies of five of those who died during the night. The bandages had been removed from the bodies and the fearful ravages of the burning oil were plainly apparent. Scarcely one of the five could be recognized even by relatives. The oil wherever it had touched the skin had burned deep into the flesh, while such portions of the cuticle as escaped entire destruction were blistered and in many places blackened by the intense heat. The lips were terribly swollen and discolored and the eyes of all five were burned out entirely. Every vestige of hair was burned off of face and head, and in many places the skull and cheek bones were exposed.

 

Later - - George Roloff, J. N. Murray and Charles Haller died at the hospital Monday morning. Two more victims, Charles Haller and Henry Jennings, died at Wann Monday morning. This makes the death total up to 2 o'clock Monday afternoon twenty-one. There are at Wann seven more cases, the most serious of which are John Henry, Jr; Henry Weigand, John Philfert and a son of Charles Hermann. These are all badly burned and their chances for recovery are small. The doctors believe that the other sufferers will recover. The fire at the wreck is out, and there is no further danger of explosion. The coroners jury is still at work.

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BURNING OIL EXPLODES

The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, January 24, 1893

Alton, Ill., January 21 - Nine persons killed outright, twelve fatally injured, and nearly a hundred more or less seriously injured is the appalling result of a series of accidents at Alton Junction today. An open switch on the Big Four main track was the cause of the disaster. A Southern Limited ran through the switch into a freight train standing on the siding, and Engineer Webb Ross of the Limited was instantly killed. The wreck took fire, and, while a great crowd was watching the spectacle, an oil tank car exploded with terrible force, enveloping the spectators in a sheet of burning oil. Nine of them were instantly killed, and scores of them were frightfully burned, a dozen of whom at least, will die.

 

Alton Junction, or Wann, is two miles east of this city, and is a watering, transfer and feeding station for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. The latter road joins the Big Four at this point, running into St. Louis over the same track. The fast through train, known as the Southwestern Limited, was coming out of St. Louis at 9 o'clock this morning, thirteen minutes late, and making up lost time at a forty-seven-mile-an-hour speed, when it ran into a switch and collided with a long freight train consisting mostly of loaded tank cars.

 

Engineer Webb Ross, of Mattoon, saw the danger too late, but he threw on the air brake and stayed with his machine, being buried in the wreck and burned to a crisp. Fireman White jumped and escaped uninjured. The passengers were fearfully shaken up, but none was seriously hurt.

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THE WORTH OF HUMAN LIFE

Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, Wednesday, January 25, 1893

The terrible calamity at Wann Saturday exceeds in loss of life any that has occurred in this vicinity in a long period of years, if, in fact, it has had its equal in the history of the county. The whole might have been avoided but for one person, a switchman, who it is claimed was running a barber shop and had charge of a switch at the same time. The man may be punished and the railroad may suffer a money loss, but the punishment of an individual or a slight falling off in the earnings of a railroad will do little to comfort the homes that have lost a father, a brother or a son in the fearful disaster. Human life is valued too little in this money getting world and particularly is too small value placed on it by money gathering corporations, which care less for the safety of lives than for dividend showing balance sheets at the close of the year. The liability for a human life is limited in this state to $5,000. It is cheaper for railroads to pay $5,000 once in a great while than to introduce or construct appliances that will tend to safety.

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FEARFUL DISASTER AT WANN - BIG FOUR LIMITED COLLIDES WITH OIL TRAIN

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

(From Daily of Saturday)  An appalling accident happened at Alton Junction this morning. The Southwestern Limited train on the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, leaving St. Louis at 8:05 and due at Alton Junction at 8:50, met with a destruction and loss of life that was awful. The train was in charge of Conductor Howard Clelland and is a solid vestibule of five cars drawn by engine No. 109. The engineer is Webb Ross of Mattoon, and the fireman Richard White, of the same place. The train was running at a high rate of speed and the track cannot be seen ahead, owing to a slight curve. They dashed around the curve and saw instantly an open switch with a long line of tank cars on the siding. Fireman White jumped and saved himself. Engineer Ross applied the air and the next instant the beautiful palace train crashed into the oil tank cars, 25 in number and all filled. The head of the engine was stove in. The next instant a lurid glare filled the air, an explosion which made the earth tremble followed and then 7,000 gallons of burning oil was sent fifty feet into the air. Engineer Ross was not injured in the collision, but jumped and fell alongside of his engine. The oil poured over him and he was burned to a crisp. Later, he was picked up and carried to a house. Fireman White stood beside the dead body of his companion moaning and weeping as if his heart would break. He exclaimed: "He saved the passengers but lost his life in doing it." The engine and cafe car were enveloped in flames and totally destroyed. In the compartment of the cafe car was the corpse of Miss Morris en route from St. Louis. It was burned with the car. Seven tanks took fire. the awful glare obscured the sun. Fourteen box cars on the siding caught fire and burned like paper.

 

The heat was intense. A switch engine close by removed the rest of the tank line cars and the four remaining cars of the limited to a safe distance. None of the passengers were injured other than a severe shaking up. A wrecking train appeared from St. Louis, but could do nothing but remove side track cars from danger. The stand pipes at the station were opened and the water allowed to flood the tracks for a hundred yards in front of the depot. The loss will foot up to $50,000 and over. The total destruction being the passenger engine, cafe car, seven union tank cars, all filled with oil, fourteen box cars, a number of which contained merchandise. The Big Four and Burlington train's were compelled to come over the Chicago & Alton tracks to this city and from thence to Alton Junction on the Big Four, thus getting around the furnace of burning cars. Hundreds of people were at the scene of the disaster. The tracks where the explosion occurred were twisted out of shape and the oil car thrown onto the main track to the side. How the switch was left open is not known. It was the grossest negligence on the part of someone, for two switches close together were open, so if the train had not run on the first it would have run onto the other. There were switch engines in the yard and some switchman was undoubtedly negligent.

 

Later: At noon word was received in this city of a disaster more appalling than the first. One of the tanks, which was burning suddenly exploded, and four others did so almost simultaneously, scattering the burning fluid in all directions. The large crowd of spectators were literally covered with the ...... [unreadable] ... the air. The scene was terrible. Most were literally burned into a crisp, others had the flesh burned to the bone. The sight was one that made the stoutest heart faint. On all sides were moans and screams of the wounded. Five dead bodies have been found, two boys and three men. One of the men was a student of Shurtleff College, of Iowa, named Hiram Cornelius. One of the boys burned to death was Edward Miller of Alton Junction. His father, William Miller, was very badly burned. The other three bodies have not been identified, being burned to a crisp. Such a scene has possibly not been witnessed in this country for years.

 

Seven more tank cars took fire and burned. Two more houses besides those burned earlier. The trees took fire and are burning. The stock yards also burned. All the houses near the scene of the disaster have been destroyed.

 

Desolation and agony are on all hands. Thousands of people are now at the scene, and doing all that can be done for the unfortunates. All the doctors from Alton and vicinity were called and are busily engaged in helping. Mrs. S. Demuth did heroic work in general direction and attending the suffering of the wounded. After the oil explosion Saturday, and the subsequent awful scenes which shocked the country for its ghastliness, Altonians went to work forming Relief committees to attend the wants of the hundreds of burned and maimed people who are now scattered over the neighboring country. The dead now number twenty.

 

AT ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL

As the victims were attended at Wann, they were placed on a Big Four special train and brought to this city. From the depot they were conveyed to St. Joseph's Hospital by the patrol wagon and tenderly cared for by willing hands. The physicians and sisters cared for their sufferings and relieved them as much as was possible. A visit to the wards in the hospital yesterday was a sight that made it impress on every one who saw it. In the southeast ward where the fatally burned ones are confined, a scene calculated to make the heart sad was presented. There are ten victims in this room. Lying on the beds, surrounded each by a few friends, the victims of that seething rain of oil writhe in their agony. Their quivering flesh is wrapped in cotton from their toes to top of their head. Nothing but lips are visible and it is impossible to tell whom you are gazing. Their lips are swollen to an enormous size, and in some instances glued together, requiring water to be sprayed upon them almost constantly. The bodies enveloped in cotton writhe and quiver and the poor victim gasps for breath and moans piteously. The room has a sickening odor. On the first couch lay Joseph Herman, his form in cotton reclining on the arm of a loving father, a weeping sister beside him, unable to speak. The names of the injured are written on a slip of paper and pasted over the top of the bedstead. In ward No. 2 are eight more victims, a few of whom are not entirely enveloped in cotton and present awful appearances, a description of which we will not give. In three wards there were twenty-three victims, seven dead removed since the first arrival. As the victims breathe their last, they are taken to the dead room and placed in the hands of undertakers. The bedding at the hospital gave out. A relief committee yesterday purchased large quantities and had it sent to the hospital.

 

The members of the Flood Relief Committee got together yesterday morning and collected a large supply of clothes and bedcovering for those that were in need of such and hired buggies to deliver them; a large amount going to Alton Junction. Among those who were active in seeing that nothing was needed by the victims were Mesdames Clement, Hamilton, and Babbits, who collected bed clothes and distributed them about.

 

Coroner Kinder appeared on the scene at Wann Saturday and immediately got together a jury to inquire into the death of Engineer Webb Ross. The verbatim verdict was:

We, the undersigned jurors, sworn to inquire of the death of Webb Ross, on oath do find that he came to his death by accident caused by a misplaced switch on the Big Four road at Wann Station, engine 109 running into a switch of oil tanks and causing a collision.  Signed by W. W. Lowe, William J. McGauteen, Christian Ulrich, Anton Ringering, John D. Janssen, and Mathias Ringering.

The blame has centered upon Albert Gratten, a switchman in the employ of the Big Four at Wann. It seems that Gratten is by trade a barber and was placed on the force of switchmen a short time ago when a number of men quit on account of a wage difficulty. He was a novice and incapable of doing his work properly. He has not been seen since the accident.

 

Yesterday morning the scene of the disaster was gone over by a number of men who thought it possible that all the injured were not yet found. Their beliefs were well founded, for at a distance from the tanks the remains of two men were found. It was an awful sight. Both men were horribly burned and had lain there for twenty hours. After the burning oil had descended upon them they ran until they fell. The name of one man was John Burke and he lives at Fosterburg; the other man is not know. Both were alive and have been brought to St. Joseph's Hospital.

 

Coroner Thomas Kinder held an inquest over the remains of William Shattuck, Henry Penning, Willie McCarthy, John Lock and Charles Maupin, at St. Joseph's Hospital yesterday afternoon. The following verdict was rendered at 3:30 p.m.:

We, the undersigned jurors, sworn to inquire into the death of (    ), on oath do find that deceased came to their death by injuries caused from the explosion of oil tanks on the C. C. C. & St. L. railroad, at Alton Junction, January 21.  Signed by W. L. Fairman, Foreman, E. F. Braunagle, B. Fahrig, W. H. Platt, F. Volbracht, and Lawrence Fahrig.

All the witnesses examined testified merely to the explosion and not of the collision, and the verdict was rendered in accordance with these facts. The coroner held inquests over a number of the victims in Upper Alton, Alton Junction and Alton, with the verdict in substance the same as the above, and different jurors.

 

THE FOLLOWING FUNERALS WERE ATTENDED BY ALTON UNDERTAKERS:

The funeral of Matthew Manns will occur tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Burial in the city cemetery. John Wilkinson, a boy, will be buried tomorrow afternoon. Funeral at 2 p.m. from the house. H. A. Cornelius, formerly a student at Shurtleff College, was shipped to his home in Wellman, Iowa last night. John Lock was buried at 3 o'clock this afternoon at the city cemetery. Henry Pinney was buried at 3 o'clock this afternoon at the city cemetery. Charles Utt, 13 years of age was buried this afternoon at the city cemetery. Willie McCarty was buried in the city cemetery at 3 p.m. today. Charles Haller will be buried at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the city cemetery. James N. Murray will be buried at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Funeral at the M. E. church in Upper Alton.

 

From the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday: 

TWO MORE DEAD

The fatalities of burned victims of the Wann horror are gradually increasing the already large list of dead. Three more victims are added to the number since yesterday. They are, Henry Wiegand of Alton Junction, and W. B. Richardson of this city. Henry Wiegand is 28 years of age. He leaves a wife to mourn his death. He was highly respected by all who knew him. W. B. Richardson died at the hospital this morning at 6:30 a.m. He was 26 years of age on the 23rd of September last.

 

Four others at St. Joseph's Hospital are very low. They are:

Otto Hagaman, aged 14; Alton.

Joseph Hermann Jr., aged 12; Alton.

David Richardson, Alton; brother of W. B. Richardson.

Frank Bartel of Stamford, Can., a glassblower.

 

INCIDENTS OF THE DISASTER:

Many people have a vague idea regarding what caused the victims' burns in Saturday's explosion, and cannot understand how the fire covered such a space. As soon as the tank exploded, the ignited oil was blown to a great height and then descended as a rain of fire within a radius of two hundred yards of where the tanks had stood. Wherever a drop touched a person, it burned deep and all the efforts of the victim to smother it were fruitless. This accounts for the fatality of the burns. In some cases it descended in bucketsful and the victim was burned to a crisp from head to foot.

 

A gentleman in this city who was a witness of the explosion, and who was just out of harm's way, relates the following: "As soon as the explosion occurred, everyone seemed paralyzed. A seething rain of fire descended on those that were watching the fire from the little grove on the bank, this side of the conflagration. Immediately men and boys, blazing from head to foot, started to run through the grove. Many dropped before they had gone any distance, and others stopped, frantically trying to remove a coat, vest or shirt. Some were in such agony that they removed every vestige of clothing and ran pell mell to the station. It was an awful sight."

 

Another gentleman who is among the list of slightly injured was standing at the corner grocery near the grove. He witnessed the fearful sight mentioned above and says: "Just after the stunning report of the explosion, a man rushed toward where several others and myself were standing. He shouted, "For God's sake, men, cut these boots off of me." Knives promptly cut the leather from the top to toe. The oil had filled both boots and burned his legs to a crisp. When his boots were taken off, the clothing and flesh came with them. He was in awful agony." The man was fatally burned.

 

One man, while lying in the depot burned so that it was impossible for him to recover, told the physician who came to attend him to relieve those little boys first, he would wait."

 

The worst afflicted family is that of William Miller, a farmer living near Alton Junction. Mr. Miller and his four sons went to the scene of the wreck early in the day. At the time of the explosion all were near and consequently all received injuries. The father, William Miller, aged 58 years, and his eldest son, Edward Miller, a student at Shurtleff College, aged 25 years, received injuries from which they died. Frank Miller received severe injuries which may prove fatal. Julius Miller was badly burned about the face, head and hands. William Miller Jr. also received injuries, which however, were slight. A double funeral took place from their home yesterday.

 

After the wreck was partially removed, curious relic-seekers searched among the charred ruins of the cafe car for valuables. The porter on the car was looser to the amount of over a hundred dollars, his earnings for several months and most of which he had in silver. Melted silver was found, some pieces but little injured. A number of watches were found at the scene of the wreck that had fallen from burning vests hurriedly removed by the victims.

 

Mr. William Henry of Alton Junction, is deserving of much praise for his magnanimous treatment of the sufferers at Alton Junction. His doors were thrown wide open and the victims brought inside by scores to have their injuries whether serious or slight, attended. Everything necessary was dealt out without a thought of pay for it. Comforts were provided, sheets torn up for bandages, and in many other ways did he give his assistance. At least $100 worth of goods were used up and Mr. Henry received no pay for it at the time, at least. These facts were obtained from an eye witness.

 

A. L. Gratton, the switchman, who was responsible for the open switch which caused the wreck of the limited Big Four train, has not fled the consequences, as has been stated. Gratton was among the number who received burns. He is now at Alton Junction nursing a severely burned head.

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A SORROW STRICKEN COMMUNITY

Alton Telegraph, January 26, 1893

Never in the history of Alton, Upper Alton, Alton Junction and vicinity, possibly never in the history of any community in the Mississippi valley, has such terrible suffering and death entered so many homes at one time. The disaster at Alton Junction on Saturday last is overwhelming. Not far from one hundred people were the victims of the cloud of burning oil sent forth by the explosion. Already twenty lives have gone out, and there is little hope for another large number, who are burned and charred almost beyond recognition. One whole family, named Miller, at the Junction, were stricken, two of whom have died. Other homes are waiting to hear the dread news that loved ones have passed away, and still others are bending over sufferers with but little hope that the heroic fortitude manifested by the stricken will be crowned by a restoration to health. Not a small part of the sorrow is over the large number of children who went down in the fiery flame of oil. Little boys, only 12 years of age, were there, and they have been borne home to grief stricken parents as charred corpses, or as blackened and terrible sufferers. To say that there is an intense feeling of sympathy with the afflicted families puts the case but mildly. The Altons and vicinity have felt the heavy hand of affliction before, but they are now bowed down with the grief of this great calamity.

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PATIENTS DOING NICELY

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

All the burned patients at the hospital had a good night's rest last night. This was occasioned by the dressing of their wounds, most of the patients going to sleep very soon thereafter. All the physicians who were present have done splendid service, not sparing themselves in order that the poor victims may have constant care. Dr. Haskell is in general charge, with the following gentlemen on watch: Dr. Fisher, from 6 to 12 a.m.; Dr. Fiegenbaum, 12 to 6 p.m.; Dr. Halliburton, 6 to 12 at night; Dr. Taphorn, from 12 to 6 in the morning. Other physicians render all the assistance they can. Mr. Eben Caldwell is reported as getting along nicely, obtaining considerable rest. Mr. Charles Harris, while still suffering intensely, is doing as well as could be expected. Nothing more serious than a period of severe suffering will result in either case.

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DOCTOR YERKES BURNED BUT DIDN'T KNOW IT - WENT ON HELPING OTHERS

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

Dr. Yerkes was at Alton Junction Saturday attending a patient when the oil explosion occurred. In going to the scene of the disaster the Doctor was running. He came in contact with some one else who was also running, and the Doctor fell, his hat dropping off. He got up, replaced his hat and went to work alleviating the suffering of the victims of the explosion. He accompanied the patients to the hospital, dressing the injuries of as many as possible. After the rush was over, Dr. Yerkes turned to another physician who was present and said: "Doctor, I wish you would look at my head; it is burning as if it was going to explode." The other Doctor made an examination and pronounced the cause of the trouble an oil burn. Dr. Yerkes, when knocked down by the collision with the man at the Junction, fell flat on his face, and some of the rain of burning oil fell on the Doctor's bald spot, but so eager was he to help others he did not notice his own suffering until he had attended the suffering of others.

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THE WANN SWITCHMAN - WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

To get at the truth of the rumors regarding Gratton, and whether or not he had been barbering during the time he was employed as switchman at Wann, a Telegraph representative went there this morning and interviewed a number of citizens. A visited was paid to Gratton's erstwhile shop. It is an unpretentious little frame addition to the rear of Jacob Baum's saloon, which is at the "Forks on the roads" in Alton Junction. There is nothing in the shop but a barber chair and one small looking glass. Jacob Baum, proprietor of the saloon, stated that he owned the barber shop, and the chair and glass. Gratton came to him about a month ago and said he had a job at switching. Baum asked him the first Sunday he worked if he intended to quit the barber business and Gratton replied in the affirmative, whereupon Baum told him to pack up his things and get out of the shop as he wanted a tenant who would be at work, for there was a crowd to get shaved. This Gratton did and his career as a barber ceased. "I remember," said Baum, "of his having shaved one man, but it was for accommodation only."  H. Gormley was in Baum's saloon during the interview and came forward with the statement that he was the man Gratton shaved a week ago Saturday night. He says Gratton shaved him on account of friendship and no money was paid. George Steinbach, the bartender at Baum's stated that he had had his hair cut by Gratton one night after working hours, for which he paid him the usual price. George Argus stated that he wanted to get shaved one night, but Gratton would not shave him. Mr. Baum stated also that Gratton had cut Thomas Russell's hair, but that too was out of accommodation and was after working hours. J. W. Cassella stated that he had not seen the shop open during the time. He had asked several friends if Gratton's shop was open but was always told "No."  William Henry and George Henry say they have not seen Gratton around the shop since he went to work on the railroad. Thus it would appear that Gratton did quit barbering, but that when away from the railroad he cut two men's hair and shaved one, for which he received pay but from one. It can hardly be charged that he neglected his work for barbering, but nearly everybody about Wann is agreed that Gratton is a very forgetful man to say the least.

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FUNERALS

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

The funeral of Matthias Manze [Manns] took place this morning at the City Cemetery. The funeral services of John Wilkinson occurred this afternoon at 2 o'clock from the Cathedral Burial in the City Cemetery. The funeral of William Richardson, one of the oil explosion victims, who died in the hospital this morning, will take place from the family residence 1318 East Second street, tomorrow at 2 p.m. Interment at City Cemetery. Mr. Richardson was 26 years of age, September 23d last. The funeral services of Henry Wiegand, another of the victims of the explosion, will be held on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the unfinished meeting house of the Baptist church at Wann. Mr. Wiegand was a deacon of this church and treasurer of building committee. The burial will be in Upper Alton at 3 p.m., and the funeral will be in charge of Madison 110 A.O.U.W. of Upper Alton. Members of neighboring lodges are invited to attend.  The funeral of Webb Ross, the veteran engineer who was burned to death in the wreck of the Big Four limited at Alton Junction Saturday morning, took place in Mattoon, Illinois yesterday from the Methodist church. Mr. Ross was 62 years old, second oldest engineer on the Big Four road and an active member of the Methodist church. Nothing but words of praise can be said of him by all who knew him. Hale and hearty he was one of the most trusted engineers of the road. The church was crowded with friends from far and near and the occasion was a sad one. Members of the Brotherhood of Engineers acted as pallbearers among, then, being Patrick Vaughn, the oldest engineer on the road. The people turned out in one accord and fairly enveloped the casket of their fellow citizen with flowers. An enormous funeral procession followed the remains to the cemetery. Among the number was Mr. George W. Cutter of this city [Alton], one of the oldest engineer's on the C. & A. [Railroad].

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TWO MORE DIE - HERMANN AND HAGERMAN

Alton Daily Telegraph, Friday, January 27, 1893

Still the sad news continues to come, and since last evening two more souls have winged their flight into eternity. Joseph Hermann Jr. died this morning at an early hour, and Otto Hagerman breathed his last at 12:30 o'clock, noon. The boys were yesterday changed from the ward in which they had been with other patients, and were placed in a ward by themselves, in order that their terrible sufferings might not interfere with the comfort of other patients. But the little fellows had not long to wait, after the change, for the grim messenger, and young Hagerman was only six hours behind his little friend in passing over the dark river. The boys were aged respectively 12 and 14 years. The funeral of Joseph Hermann Jr. will take place Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock from the residence of his parents on Piasa street. The arrangements and notice of the funeral of Otto Hagerman, the other victim, will be given tomorrow. The other sufferers are resting as well as can be expected, and are being kindly and carefully attended by the physicians and nurses. Coroner Kinder held an inquest this afternoon at St. Joseph's Hospital over the remains of Joseph Hermann Jr., and Otto Hagerman, who died there today.

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ANOTHER BURNED

Alton Daily Telegraph, Friday, January 27, 1893

Dr. T. P. Yerkes of Upper Alton reports that a man by the name of Green, of American Bottoms, was badly burned in the terrible holocaust of last Saturday. Mr. Green is quite badly burned about the hands, face and ears. Dr. Yerkes has attended fifteen different persons who have not been in the hospital. It is reported that a man who lives in Fosterburg, and was burned at Wann last Saturday, died today. There were only two men burned who lived in Fosterburg. One was Mr. T. C. Dillon, not seriously, and John Burke, very severely.

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CONDITION OF VICTIMS

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, January 26, 1893

The condition of the victims of the oil explosion has not changed materially since yesterday. No deaths have been reported since yesterday morning, although a number at St. Joseph's Hospital, two at Alton Junction and one at Upper Alton are in a very serious condition. Mortification is setting in, in several of the worst cases, and their lives are despaired of. A number inhaled the fire and have their lungs affected. In the worst cases the victims do not seem to suffer nearly as intense pain as those injuries are not severe. This is caused by the deadened condition of the nervous system in those whose burns are dangerous. Seventeen patients are now at the hospital. The attending physicians have a watch of six hours each. Drs. Fisher and Fiegenbaum have day watches and Haskell and Guelich night watches. The bandages had to be removed today from the victims at St. Joseph's hospital for the first time since they were placed there on Saturday last. The extent of their injuries will be more fully understood by the physicians when their wounds are dressed. The entire force of physicians have been at work. A number of the patients are much improved and others did not stand the ordeal well.

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TWO MORE DEATHS AT WANN

The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, January 31, 1893

Alton, Ills., Jan 30. -- Deaths from injuries at the Wann disaster are still of daily occurrence, two more being reported Sunday. Louis McIntosh of Wann station of the Chicago and Alton railroad, died Sunday, and his death was soon followed by that of John Burks of Fosterburg. The latter lay out in the fields all night after the explosion, and on Sunday morning, the day after, was found in an unconscious condition by Mr. Charles F. Steiner of this city, and taken to St. Joseph's hospital.

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MORE WANN VICTIMS

The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, February 1, 1893

Alton, Ills., January 31. -- The death Monday of Bernard Nienhaus at Alton Junction makes the death list from the Alton Junction oil explosion up to twenty-nine. The reports of the various physicians show that most of the injured ones are in a terrible condition. Charles Herriman, a little boy, is perhaps the worst of any. It is reported that the flesh is dropping from his body in certain places. The little fellow is bearing his misfortunes manfully, but there is but one chance in a thousand of his recovery. Thomas Philbrook will hardly survive. John Henry Jr., is in terrible plight, and his death is expected. All the men in the hospital are in a critical condition, and but few of them can survive. Before the death-roll is closed, the first estimate of thirty-five will undoubtedly be passed.

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ALTON WANN DISASTER - TWENTY-NINE DEATHS

The New Era (Rolla, Missouri), Saturday, February 4, 1893

St. Louis, January 31 - Two more deaths Sunday of victims of the oil explosion at Wann, Ill., on January 21, swell the total list of dead to twenty-eight. One of the unfortunates was John Burke, of Fosterburg, who died in St. Joseph's Hospital, Alton. Burke is the man who wandered away at the time of the accident on account of the delirium in which his pain put him. He was not found until the next day, and the wonder is that he stood the burns and exposure so long. The other victim is Louis McIntosh of Alton Junction, who died at his home.

 

Four funerals of victims took place Sunday. George Roloff was buried at Upper Alton; George Rucker at Alton Junction; and Otto Hagermann and Joseph Herrman Jr., at Alton. Most of the unfortunates have become delirious, and the case of Charles Harris, of Alton, who was thought to be but slightly injured, is decidedly serious. The worst off at present are Joseph Harris Jr., of Alton Junction, and B. Nienhaus, also of that place.  

 

Later - Nienhaus has since died, making the total deaths thus far twenty-nine.

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ANOTHER DEAD

Alton Evening Telegraph, Saturday, February 4, 1893

Henry Pilgrim, another of the victims of the Wann disaster, died this afternoon at 2:15 o'clock, at the hospital. Mr. Pilgrim suffered intensely most of the time, and death came as a relief to the poor maimed and scarred body. The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock from the family residence, 814 East Third street.

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ATTEMPT MADE TO HEAD OFF WANN INVESTIGATION

Alton Evening Telegraph, February 4, 1893

Springfield, Ill., February 3 - In the House this morning Mr. Irwin (Dem.) precipitated an excited debate by moving to discharge the committee appointed to investigate the Big Four accident at Wann. Mr. Fowler, Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Callahan, Mr. McMillan and others, opposed the motion saying that the investigation had been ordered by a unanimous vote of the House, and to suddenly stop it without apparent cause would cast suspicion on members of the Legislature. The motion was finally voted down, 7 to 71, and the Committee was given a leave of absence. On Monday afternoon, the scenes of the wreck will be visited and Tuesday morning the hearing of evidence will be commenced at the Madison House in Alton

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MORE WANN NEWS

Alton Telegraph, February 16, 1893

Switchman Gatton, it is said, is in Medora.  All of the injured except Mr. Philbrick are doing splendidly, and their friends and relatives are feeling in good spirits over the prospects. The Alton Junction members of the Upper Alton Odd Fellows Lodge contributed some $27 to a common purse the other day, and this they presented to the widow Bright, whose house and furniture were destroyed by the fire of the explosion.  Mr. T. C. Dillon [of Fosterburg], who was so badly burned at the Wann disaster is improving as fast as could be expected. His face is almost well, but it will be a long time before his hands are well again.

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MORE WANN NEWS

Alton Daily Telegraph February 28, 1893

John Fred and Patrick Findley, two sufferers of the Wann disaster, are in a serious condition at St. Joseph's Hospital. Both were horribly burned, Fred having his eye-sight destroyed. Their chances for recovery are slight.

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EMPLOYEES SETTLE WITH COMPANY

Alton Telegraph, March 2, 1893

Some of the Big Four employees who were injured by the explosion have settled with the company and claim that the latter acted very handsomely with them. Some of those who suffered because of the explosion intend bringing suit against the company owning the oil as well as the railroad company. A gentleman tells me that there was a rousing meeting held at the Opera House in Jacksonville last Sunday at which considerable money was subscribed for the benefit of the widows and orphans caused by the Wann explosion. Committees were appointed for further solicitations, and he said the prospect was bright for the securing of a large sum from the philanthropic citizens of Jacksonville, alone. It is certain that aid is needed and will be appreciated by those left behind by the wreck.

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UPDATE ON JOHN HENRY JR.

Alton Daily Telegraph, May 2, 1893

Mr. John Henry Sr., of Upper Alton, was in the city today purchasing a "wheel" chair for his son John, who was seriously burned by the Wann explosion. The young man is recovering rapidly but is unable to walk, and the chair it is thought will enable him to have the benefits of the air, sunshine and exercise.

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UPDATE ON WANN VICTIMS

Alton Telegraph, May 11, 1893

John Henry Jr. sat up for about an hour last Friday for the first time since the Wann explosion last January. Thomas Philbrick too is able to walk around a little, while John P. Mullane is rapidly regaining strength and activity.

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UPDATE ON WANN VICTIMS

Alton Daily Telegraph, May 16, 1893

The victims of the Wann disaster at St. Joseph's Hospital present a pitiable appearance. A benefit of some sort would be an appropriate way of helping the poor unfortunates.

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HENRY WIEGAND EXHUMED

Alton Telegraph, May 18, 1893

The body of the late Henry Wiegand, one of the victims of the explosion, will be disinterred Wednesday and reburied in another place in the Upper Alton cemetery.

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GEORGE STAPLES SENT HOME

Alton Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, June 20, 1893

George Staples, who was a seriously burned victim of the Wann disaster, was sent to his home in Evanston, Indiana this morning by friends. He is dreadfully disfigured, and had no means of support. He was overjoyed at the thought of returning to his old home.

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JOHN ZIEGLER RECOVERING

Alton Telegraph, Thursday, August 10, 1893

Mr. John Ziegler, one of the Wann victims, who has been visiting relatives in Canada, returned to Alton last evening. He is looking well and has almost entirely recovered from the injuries by the burning oil.

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JOHNNIE MULLANE HAS NEVER RECOVERED

Alton Telegraph, August 31, 1893

Johnnie Mullane, who was so seriously burned in the Wann explosion, has never fully recovered, and he is now quite sick with malarial troubles.

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COUNTY VOTES ON WHETHER OR NOT TO PAY BILLS ON WANN EXPLOSION

Alton Daily Telegraph, September 11, 1893

The County Board of Supervisors will take a final vote tomorrow on the payment or non-payment of the physicians' and sisters' bills in the Wann oil explosion cases.

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JOHN P. MULLANE ASKS FOR $$ DAMAGES FROM THE BIG FOUR RAILROAD

Alton Telegraph, November 23, 1893

The following dispatch from East St. Louis explains itself:  A suit for $25,000 damages for personal injuries was commenced in the City Court yesterday by John P. Mullane against the Big Four Railway. Mullane was a very badly used up man, and besides being permanently injured in both legs and arms, he has lost his hearing and the sight of one eye. His face is a mass of scars, and on account of an injury to his jaw he eats with much difficulty. Mullane was one of the victims of the fearful Wann wreck. When the oil tanks exploded, he was enveloped in the flames of burning oil. His body was found by friends that night about a mile from Wann, and he was taken to a hospital for treatment, and knew nothing of the occurrence for several months, as he lingered between life and death. The plea of the company will no doubt be as in other cases, that all who stood and watched the wreck and were then burned by the explosion were trespassing on the company's grounds. The plaintiff relies upon the fact that the wagon road and path along the tracks have been used for the past thirty years as a public highway, and although the company owned the land, it acquiesced in such public use.

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HENRY, WILLIAM F./Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 18, 1911      Wann Disaster Recalled by Death of William Henry - Gave Money to Sufferers and Offered His All For Relief

William F. Henry died Monday night at his home in Washington avenue, Upper Alton, after a long illness from lung troubles and complications. He was born near East Alton in 1861, and is survived by his wife and four children, John Henry of Alton, and William Henry of Springfield; Miss Agnes of Alton, and Mrs. Nellie Riley of Montana. A sister, Mrs. Robert M. Kennedy of Bethalto, and two brothers, John J. Henry of Upper Alton and George Y. Henry of East Alton, also survive. For a great many years Will Henry was one of the leading merchants of Wood River township, and conducted business places at East Alton and Edwardsville Crossings at the same time. The day of the Wann oil explosion, eighteen years ago, when scores of people were burned and suffering and immediate relief was needed, Will Henry threw open the doors of his large store and fairly begged helpers to take anything in sight that would tend to relieve suffering or give comfort in any way. Several barrels of linseed oil, hundreds of pounds of cotton, lard, muslin, domestic, bedspreads, etc., to the amount of several hundreds of dollars, and used for the dying or to wrap up the dead. Not only that, but Mr. Henry offered anything else he had to those who needed it on that day. He turned his house into a hospital also, and was indeed a good angel to those in pain and trouble. He was a great hearted, generous man, honest, charitable, and intensely human, and there will be general and sincere regret felt by all who knew him when they hear of his death. The funeral will be held at the St. Paul's Episcopal church Friday afternoon at 1 o'clock. The Rev. Arthur Goodger will officiate.

 

 


 

 

 

LIST OF DEAD

 

NAME

HOMETOWN

DEATH INFORMATION

BURIAL INFORMATION

     

Burke, John

Fosterburg

Wandered away, found next day

 

Cornelius, Hiram A.

Wellman, Iowa

Killed instantly

Student at Shurtleff College; body sent to Iowa for burial

Edwards, William

Alton Junction

Died at Alton Junction

 

Hagermann, Otto

Alton

Died Jan. 27

Age 14; buried at Alton

Haller, Charles or George

Edwardsville Rd near Wanda

Died at home

Funeral at Brushy Grove church; Buried in City Cemetery Jan. 24, 1893

Harris, Daniel

Alton Junction

   

Herrman, Joseph Jr.

Alton

Died Jan. 27

Age 12; buried at Alton

Houlihan, Timothy/Thomas L.

East St. Loius

Died at home

Sectionman on RR

Jennings, Henry

Wann

Died at Wann

 

Locke/Lock, John

 

Died at hospital; glassblower

Buried in City Cemetery

Mange, William

Alton

Found dead 1/2 mile from Wann

 

Manns, Mathias/Matthew

Upper Alton

Found dead

Buried in City Cemetery

Maupin, Charles

St. Charles, MO

Died at hospital

 

McCarthy, William/Willie

Alton

Died at hospital; age 13

Buried in City Cemetery

McIntosh, Louis

Alton Junction

Died at home

 

Miller, Edward

Alton Junction

Died at home

Buried at Alton Junction January 22

Miller, William

Alton Junction

Died at home

Father of Edward

Morris, Miss

Enroute from St. Louis

Found burned in cafe car

Nothing more is said regarding this individual

Murray, James N.

Upper Alton

Died at hospital

Assessor of Wood River Township; Funeral at M. E. church in Upper Alton

Nienhaus, Bernard/Barney

Wann

   

Penning, Henry

American Bottoms

   

Philbrook, Thomas

North Alton

   

Pilgrim, Henry

Alton

Died Feb. 4

 

Pinney, Henry

Alton Junction

 

Buried in City Cemetery

Richardson, William B.

Alton

Died at hospital

26 yrs old on 23rd of September last

Roloff, George

Upper Alton

Home in Upper Alton

Buried at Upper Alton; father [John] died shortly after, due to grief over his son

Ross, Webb, Engineer

Mattoon

Burned in first explosion

Body sent to Mattoon for burial

Rucker, George

Wann

Face and hands badly burned

Buried at Alton Junction

Shattock/Shattuck, William

Upper Alton

Died at hospital

 

Utt, Charles

Alton

Killed instantly

8 yrs old; Buried in City Cemetery

Wiegand, Henry

Wann Junction

 

35 yrs old; Funeral at Wann; burial in Upper Alton

Wiggins, Henry

Alton Junction

Died at home

 

Wilkinson, John

Alton

Died at hospital

12 yrs old; Buried in Greenwood Cemetery; son of James E.

 

 

LIST OF INJURED

 

INJURED

HOMETOWN

CONDITION

   

Bariel/Bartel/Barton, Frank

Stanford, Can.

A glassblower; very low

Barr, John

Wann

Badly burned

Berg, John

Alton

Slightly burned

Caldwell, Evan M.

Alton

Seriously burned about face, neck and hands

Chessen, James

Alton

Slightly burned

Crowe, Charles

Unknown

Injuries slight

Deneaue/Deneane, Louis

Montreal, Canada

A glassblower; not dangerous

Dillon, T. C.

Fosterburg

Not serious

Drucker, George

American Bottoms

Hands and face burned

Estke, Herman

Alton

Will likely die

Faeger, William

Upper Alton

Dangerous condition

Fietz/Fretz/Fred, John

Edwardsville Crossing

Fatally

Findley, John

Alton

 

Findley, Patrick

Alton

A glassblower; serious condition

Fitzpatrick, John

East St. Louis

Injuries slight

Frazier, A. P./E.

Tramp

Fatally

Freemann, W. F.

Alton

Badly burned

Fretz, Andrew

Edwardsville Crossing

Slightly burned

Glassner, John

Alton

Boy, badly burned

Gratton, A. L.

Alton Junction

Switchman responsible for open switch; Severely burned head

Green, Unknown

American Bottoms

Burned about the hands, face and ears

Hamilton, Charles

Alton Junction

 

Hammond, Charles

American Bottoms

Injuries slight

Harris, Charles

Wann

Very serious

Harris, Dalton

Alton Junction

unknown

Harris, Joseph Jr.

Alton Junction

 

Harrison, W. Charles

Alton

Badly burned; not serious

Henry, John Jr.

Wann

Intestines slightly burned; May 1893 - father purchased wheelchair, can't walk

Hermann, Charles Jr.

Wann

Fatally

Herriman, Charles

 

Young boy

James, Frank

Wann

Seriously burned

Job, Z. B.

Alton

 

Luttrell, John

Alton

Fatally; Railroad man

McIntosh, William

Wann

Brother of Louis; badly burned

McMillan, A.

East St. Louis

Badly burned

McPike, John H.

Alton

Hand burned

Menhaus, B.

Alton

 

Miller, Frank

Wann

Face and hands burned

Miller, Julius

Wann

Face and hands badly burned

Monaghan, John

 

Of wrecking crew, slight injuries

Montgomery, J. W.

Atlanta, Illinois

Student at Shurtleff College; badly burned

Mullane, John P.

Wann

Seriously burned; lost hearing and sight in one eye

Nuske, Herman

Alton

unknown

O'Mara, Pat

Alton

Railroad laborer, hands burned

Philbrick/Philbrook, John

Wann

Both eyes burned out, will die

Philbrook, Thomas

Wann

Brother of Mrs. E. S. Pullen

Philfert, John

   

Richardson, David

Alton

Fatally

Richardson, Ephraim

Alton

 

Richardson, William B.

Alton

Brother of David; fatally

Schaeffer, William

Upper Alton

Seriously burned

Scullin/Scullen, Frank

Alton

Face and hands - horribly disfigured and unable to work - committed suicide on Feb. 28, 1910

Seister, John

Alton

 

Staples, George

Evanston, Indiana

Young boy, frightfully burned

Staples, Henry

Uniontown, Kentucky

unknown

Steele/Stetle, John

Wann

Head burned

Still, Frank

Alton

Badly burned

Sullivan, Timothy

East St. Louis

Fatally burned

Valentine, Hamilton

American Bottoms

May recover but critical

Webster, James

Alton

Struck in head with piece of iron, badly burned

Weigand, Henry

Wann

Fatally

Willen, Mrs. A. L. & child

Kansas City

unknown

Williams, Thomas

Upper Alton

Dangerously burned

Joeger, William

Upper Alton

Dangerous condition

Valentine/Ballentyne, William

Wann

Badly burned

Ziegler, John

Alton

 

 

 


 

 

 

THE INVESTIGATION

 

Alton Telegraph, February 2, 1893

A telegram from Springfield announces that the House committee appointed to investigate the Wann casualty met yesterday morning to decide upon the method of making the investigation. The resolution under which the committee was appointed provides that no expense shall be incurred other than that approved by the Speaker, and Mr. Crafts' advice regarding the method of procedure was asked. The Speaker rather discouraged the investigation, saying that he understood it to be the duty of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission to make the investigation. The members of the committee, however, seemed to think that, having been instructed by the House to make the investigation, they could exercise no discretion in the matter and would have to investigate. Doorkeeper Browne reported that he had been furnished a list of witnesses who were to testify against the railroad company. The majority of them are railroad men from Alton, and they are expected to testify that it is the practice of the "Big Four" to employ incompetent men. Six of them, it is said, will swear that they left the employ of the company because of the incompetency of their co-employees, and one witness announces that he will testify that the "Big Four" will not keep a good workman. The labor unions are taking an active interest in the proposed investigation, and the committee has received word from some of them suggesting the names of witnesses whom they desire to have examined. Owing to the committee meeting in Chicago, and the party question which will come under consideration in the House, the committee will not be able to begin the inquiry for two or three weeks.

 

The Coroner's Juries

In the first of the inquests held over the victims of the oil explosion at Wann, the juries did not attach blame to the railroad officials. The last three or four juries, however, have rendered verdicts laying the blame for the disaster at the door of the company. The principle of the juries' reasoning is about this: An incompetent, or negligent, employee of the Big Four road failed to close the switch at Wann; this failure resulted in permitting a passenger train to collide with an oil train; thus wrecking of both trains causing the death of the engineer; the collision set fire to the oil in the tanks; this fire, later on, caused an explosion which brought about the death of the persons over whom the inquests were held, therefore the railroad company is responsible.

 

Just how far the juries are legally correct in their reasoning is not for the Telegraph to say. Just how much weight may be given to the verdicts is also a matter that each one will decide for himself. There is not doubt but that the officials of the Big Four road fear serious litigation in the matter, and the fact that their attorneys are looking closely into the matter is evidence that it will contest the legality of any claim for damages because of the oil explosion. The general understanding of the position of the road is that the burned people were at the scene of the disaster merely as spectators; and that when they remained there they took the risk of danger upon themselves. On the other hand, those who hold to the theory that the road is responsible, claim that it is a law of human nature to be interested in such matters; that is only reasonable to expect that people in the vicinity of a wreck would go to the scenes; and that because the officials, knowing the inflammable character of the material in the tanks, did not warn the spectators, the company therefore is responsible for the suffering and loss of life. It is contended further on this line, that as the employees of the company were permitted to work in an attempt to clear the wreck, spectators were led to believe there was no danger.  On the other hand, the company will be sustained by a number of witnesses who will swear that they believed the burning oil to be dangerous and left the scene of disaster simply because they feared to remain; and that all others should have exercised similar precaution.

**********************************************

 

 

Alton Weekly Telegraph, Thursday, February 9, 1893

The House committee consisting of Messrs. Fowler, Chairman; Snyder, McMillan, Baldwin, Fletcher, Coughlin, and Snedeker, who are to make a thorough investigation of the disaster at Wann and report, arrived in the city Monday morning. After dinner they went by special train to Wann where they looked over the scene of the wreck. The committee took measurements of the ground the distance between switches, and much data that will be useful to them in making up a report.

 

The Committee in Session at Hotel Madison

Chairman Robert Fowler and Messrs. J. T. McMillan, O. A. Snedeker, L. S. Baldwin, J. P. Fletcher, G. S. Coughlin and W. H. Snyder Jr., the House committee, and E. S. Browne, the Doorkeeper of the House, were busily engaged Tuesday in taking testimony in the Wann investigation. Mr. Browne was engaged Monday in subpoenaing witnesses, and some forty-five or fifty have been summoned. Constable Sam Hayes has been assisting him in this duty.

 

Besides the committee, J. S. Dye, of Cincinnati, C. R. Meyer of Indianapolis, and G. F. McNulty of Alton, attorneys for the road, were present at the examination of witnesses. The gentlemen took copious notes of testimony. The following is the testimony:

 

A. D. White was the first witness examined. Mr. White testified that he was fireman on train No. 18, which was bound for Mattoon, on the day of the explosion at Wann. That he was coming in from St. Louis and that he was on the engine that collided with oil tanks at Wann. We were nearly three hundred feet away from the switch before I noticed that the switch was open. I got off while engineer Ross put on the brakes. We were going about thirty-five miles an hour. I have not made statements that we were going forty miles per hour. There were about fifteen oil tanks on the track. I do not know what kind of oil was in the tanks. I heard Yardmaster Miller say to bystanders in my presence the kind of oil that was in the tanks. The engine was badly burned and the cafe car. I judge that the train was going about fifteen miles per hour when it struck the car. I stayed in the vicinity until they found Engineer Ross' body, then I went to the depot about a quarter of a mile away. The track is nearly straight for about a quarter to a half mile before the switch is reached. The cause of the wreck was the leaving open of a switch on main track and also on side track No. 2.  Ross' body was burned beyond recognition. The wood work on some of the cars that had oil on was burning when I left there. There was danger of the oil exploding. I went away with the body of Engineer Ross. The round house foreman, Mr. Barnes, of East St. Louis, said that the oil was evidently lubricating oil and was dangerous and that we had better not go back there. I do not know of anyway that the explosion could have been prevented. The switchmen from Alton went there and pulled away what cars they could with safety. We were about fifteen minutes late. It was nearly three hours after we arrived when the explosion occurred. When I left there were about one hundred people there. Mr. Miller said he had charge of the Alton yard and the Wann yard. I do not know who had charge of the switch. The switch engine pulled out the oil tanks first and then the box cars.  The counsel for the Big Four asked the witness if he could locate the place his engine was when he first noticed the switch was open. Witness pointed out location on profile. Ross must have seen it when about one thousand feet away. I can not state how far it would take to stop a train with all the appliances for stopping in use. I think that a train could be stopped in one thousand feet.  Counselor J. F. Dye asked if he could ask witness some questions in regard to the Big Four discriminating against organized labor. Which were asked. Mr. Fowler here stated that questions of that kind would not be permissible and until they should go into that matter, no questions would be allowed by the company's attorneys.

 

Robert Curdie being sworn said that his residence was Alton, that he was acquainted with the yard at Wann. He described the yard as he was acquainted with it. I think that the explosion occurred about twenty minutes before twelve. There were about seven tanks there when I arrived. Four or five tanks were burned out when I got there. There were about 300 people there when I got there. The majority of the people were on the bank on the west side of the track. I went to the cafe car to see the corpse that was reported as being there. There was no especial warning of any danger from the burning tanks. I was there about thirty minutes. I do not know the character of the oil that exploded.

 

Dr. T. P. Yerkes, after being sworn, was examined. I have met a number of the burned victims. I was at Wann when the explosion occurred. I think the oil was coal oil. I think there were about sixty people burned either slightly or fatally. I think the flames reached about fifty or sixty feet in the air. There were two small houses burned on the west side of the track. I heard no warning given.

 

Joseph Dailey testified that he was a railroad man; that he had been a brakeman, yardman and conductor; that he had served four years as a yardmaster at different points. I am acquainted with the yard at Wann. The yard requires an experienced man. I don't think a man could work two places and give satisfaction in both, and don't think a man should be yardmaster at two places like Wann and Alton at the same time. It would not be safe to put a man in charge of a yard who had only been in it four or five weeks. Witness knew nothing about Gatton. Knew Ray. Never knew of his ever railroading before going on the Big Four. Do not think Ray was a competent yardman. The Big Four made a good many changes while I was at Wann. I employed a number and they were nearly all green men. The labor organizations generally regard these men as incompetent men. Mr. Neinhaus, Mr. Toohey and Mr. Luedeker were among the green men employed there. They are men who have been started there as green men, and numerous others that I can not name. The yard at Wann requires an experienced man. The yardmaster who has been there has always shown a preference for inexperienced men. The wages paid these green men was not what it ought to have been. We asked for more money and they would not give it. Men have received orders to take out trains when they did not know what their rights were after the orders had been received. I got $65 per month for my work on the Big Four and I now get $85 on the Bluff Line. Committee adjourned to 1 o'clock.

 

At one o'clock the committee was called to order and Mr. James Derwin was the first witness. He stated that he has been in railway employ since 1879. Last employed by the Chicago & Alton R. R.  Acquainted with Wann yard. I would not say that the yard was hazardous nor would I say that it was safe. It would take a skilled man to take care of the yard. It would be risky for one man to be yardmaster at both Alton and Wann, unless he had men working for him that he could trust. I think no train should go into a yard at a rate of 30 or 35 miles an hour. If a train was under control when an engineer was coming into a yard it would not be so dangerous. When a train is under control it should be running from ten to twelve miles per hour. I worked for the Big Four about four years ago. This yard requires skilled men. A raw man only working a month would not be competent to take charge of switches. A man should work six months anyhow to be competent to take charge of switches. The Big Four are in the habit of employing green men in preference to skilled men. The company could not make as many changes as it has been doing and get competent men. They have been in the habit of employing men who do not belong to union labor organizations. A man must be engaged in one place before he can join union labor organizations. I mean by this the brakeman and switchman's organization. One of the objects of these organizations is to get competent men. In reply to a question from Counselor J. F. Dye, witness said.  Mr. Spellman had charge of the Alton yards under Mr. Miller's instructions. He is a Union man. I left the C. & A. about two months ago. I have been brakeman, conductor and switchman since 1879. Witness stated that he spoke from what he had seen and heard. Mr. Dye attempted to find out where the witness got his information from. Ruled out. From Chairman Fowler: "Do you know of the Big Four employing green men from the start?"  "Yes."  "Do you know this of your own personal knowledge?"  "Yes."  "Do you know of any other men who have been employed by the Big Four other than Mr. Neinhaus and Mr. Toohey?"  "Yes sir. Mr. Jim Kirwin who is now working for them."  From Mr. Dyer:  "Is Mr. Kirwin competent to work under a foreman?"  "Yes sir."  From Mr. Fowler:  "What wages were they paying?" "About $55 when I was working for them."  "Is that sufficient?"  "No sir."  From Mr. Caughlin: "Is the company in the habit of changing men oftener than other roads?"  "Yes sir."  In answer to a question from Mr. Dye, the witness said that he did not know what wages were now paid on the Big Four, but was talking about wages of men when he was employed by them some three years ago.

 

H. Nienhaus testified that the Big Four had employed incompetent men. Ray and Bennett being among the number. John Ray was incompetent because he had never been in the employ of a railroad company until he was employed at Wann. I do not know Gatton. I do not know whether he was working at Wann at the time of the wreck or not. It seems that the Big Four has been employing incompetent men. Ludeker had worked in a grocery store. O'Haver and Ferris were also employed; none of these were competent men. The road has been in the habit of making frequent changes. They hire both union and non-union; the union organizations try to get competent men into its organizations. A train should only run from 12 to 15 miles per hour. It would be dangerous to come in there at a rate of 30 or 35 per hour. An engineer could have stopped if he had been going at a rate of 12 or 15 miles per hour. I was night yardmaster when I worked for the company, I got $80 per month. I never had any experience before I went to work for the Big Four. I worked about 7 months before I took charge of the yard. I worked in a planing mill before I went to railroading. I was given charge of the yard before I was competent.  In reply to questions from Counselor J. F. Dye: I gave signals the first day I was there and was not competent. I was there six or seven months before I was given charge of the yard. I coupled cars in the interval.

 

E. J. Tierney stated that he had worked for the Big Four one year and eight months. Had been a brakeman for ten years. It takes a man who has worked at the business about a week to learn a new yard. It depends upon the kind of men employed whether they can become competent in six months if they were green when they began. I do not know Ray, and am not sure whether I know Gatton or not. While I worked there, I worked with a good many green men. I worked with men there who didn't know a link from a pin. I can't give many names; Ludeker was one and "Farmer John," another. They were given positions handling switches. A green man is likely to get "rattled" and make a mistake. The Wann yard requires one man to exclusively attend to that yard. A man cannot do two men's work at different places and do it well. I quit because I had two men's work to do and was not getting but $55 per month to do it. A good switchman ought to get $2.70 per day, that is what I think the schedule is.  Mr. Baldwan asked if competent men could always be secured and witness testified that they could if wages sufficient were paid.

 

The Big Four have their General Counselor and his assistants, C. R. Myers of Cincinnati and G. F. McNully. Beside these are General Manager Joseph Ramsey of Cincinnati and Superintendent A. G. Wells, of Indianapolis, who are carefully looking after their own interests. Occasionally a little parliamentary fight occurs between Attorney Dye and Chairman Fowler, the latter, however, always insists on doing the work exactly as he pleases and accepting or refusing any evidence that he or the committee do not want. Mr. Dye at the same time entering his protests.

 

Daniel Tochey said that he began railroading about twenty months ago on the Big Four at Wann. I knew Gatton. Last December he was a barber. I do not know of him ever being a railroad man prior to his work for the Big Four. It would not have been safe for him to have been left in charge of that yard in so short a time as he was there. It would take an experienced man from six weeks to two months to be competent to take charge of a yard. It would take a green man six months. The Big Four have been accustomed to employing green men. In reply to questions from General Counselor Dye, witness stated that he did not know whether Gatton had been in railway employ before going on the Big Four or not. I am a union man. Did not quit in December 2, quit in August, was taken sick.

 

James H. Maupin, Jr., testified that he was a real estate man and that he was at Wann the day of the wreck. Got there about 11 o'clock. Six or seven of the oil tanks were on fire when I got there. I thought that the oil burned like gasoline. I do not think coal oil would generate gas like this did when burning. I did not leave there thinking that there was any danger.

 

James Webster, of Alton, testified that he was present at the time of the explosion, but heard no warning given to bystanders.

 

Z. B. Job Sr., of Alton, thought that the blaze only extended up something like ten feet. He heard no warning given to bystanders.

 

Silas Cooper, of Alton Junction, was examined and testified that he knew Gatton. He regarded him as cranky. Said that he had kept a barber shop previous to working on the "Big Four." He boarded with the witness at one time. He heard no warning given. It is possible that had warning been given the people may have left. There ought to have been a warning given.

 

Lyman Price, a farmer, was not at the explosion. I was acquainted with Gatton. Have known him for some time. I understand that he has made Wann his home off and on for about two years. He was not a very good barber. He run the barber shop about four weeks. He did not keep the shop open as far as I know after going to work for the railroad company. I saw him beastly drunk one time. I know Ray; "was born and raised with him." He had not been in the railroad business prior to going on the Big Four.

 

John Ray being called stated that he was a switchman since the first of January. I have been switching cars and riding them in the yard and coupling cars. I did not attend switches; only when called upon by the yardmaster to do so. Previous to my railroad work I worked in a saloon and in a grocery store. We haven't had a regular crew. Lyons was the oldest man and was a kind of foreman. Lyons was generally there but was not there on the morning of the wreck. Gatton and I were the only ones there on the day of the wreck; Lyons was at the other end of the yard. Lyons, Gatton and Miller had keys to the switch. Mr. Gatton opened the switch to put an oil car on the side track. Gatton did not take charge of work unless ordered to by the foreman. I don't think he was working under any orders when the wreck occurred.

 

James Chessen, a farmer, was introduced. Witness was at Wann about half past ten o'clock on the morning of the wreck. He said that some said the burning tanks were dangerous. The night yardmaster said that there was danger of the oil exploding. I was south on the main track when the explosion took place. I was near the engine. There were about three hundred people there when the explosion occurred. I should think there were fifty people hurt.

 

A. Barr, a section hand, was examined and said that he was at Wann frequently. I see oil cars there nearly every day on tracks No 2, and also on No. 4. There were about seventy-five people [unreadable].  I Understand there were seventy people hurt. The oil must have gone over me for I fell. I did not hear any railroad man say that it was gasoline. I think one oil tank exploded. I counted seven tanks that had exploded the next morning. I don't know how many cars were on the track that day.

 

Thomas Lyon was the next witness who stated that he was employed in 1892 by the Big Four. Gatton and I went to work the same day. Ray went to work after I did. Mr. Gatton had the key to the switch, but did not have key to No. 2 switch, as it has no lock, it is a branch off from another side track. When questioned by Mr. Dye, witness stated that he had been railroading since 1873.

 

Thomas O. Page had been in the employ of the Big Four but was discharged on account of poor hearing. Thought switch No. 2, at Wann safe. Said that the oil cars were generally moved away by the first train. Mr. Page very clearly showed by his evidence that a main line switch was the dangerous switch. Some of the committee contended that switch No. 2 (a side track) was the most dangerous, but Mr. Page forcibly stated that if the main line switch was closed it would be impossible for a train on that track to collide with a train on the siding. His evidence gave the officers of the road great pleasure.

 

A. D. White, the fireman, was recalled and said that he regarded a train under control when running at the rate of 8 or 10 miles per hour. Had been on this run about a month. We were in the habit of slowing up when going through Wann. Don't know why we were going 30 or 35 miles per hour on morning of the wreck. We did not stop at Wann except to get passengers when train was flagged. I would judge that we generally went through there about 12 or 15 miles per hour. I don't think we intended to stop that morning, we were a little late.

 

Adjourned to Wednesday morning.

 

Wednesday Morning, Session opened at 9 o'clock:

William Bennett, a switchman at Wann. Knew Gatton. Takes a man that knows his business to switch in the Wann yard. Gatton run barber shop before going to work on the Big Four.

 

Engineer Edward Stack has been working at Wann since 1891. Said Norris was his fireman and that he had been railroading about three months. Gatton and Ray went with us to the sidetrack to get coal, but did not help coal the engine. Gatton had worked two weeks with me. I worked every other week in day time. I never knew him until I saw him working there. I was there on the morning of the wreck. I don't know how it happened. Gatton threw the switches and I went onto track No. 5. I don't know whether Gatton set switch or not. (Here witness could not remember his fireman's name.) Fireman has been with me three months. I saw Gatton shut No. 5 switch, don't know whether he locked it or not. Gatton did not shut No. 2 switch.

 

William F. Freeman of Alton said that he was at Wann on the day of the explosion. I expected two men on train, that is why I went down. He told the scene at the Junction substantially as far as has been told. He heard no warning given. Knows that Frank Scullin was working on the track. I was carried by the explosion about 60 feet. I was not badly hurt, but saw something like a ball of fire. It was a man, he shouted "kill me, kill me, kill me." I shouted to him. I then grabbed him and tore his clothes off. While I was doing this he said, "Oh why did they put me here to be burned up." Scullin is a construction or section hand. I think it was coal oil; if it had been gasoline it would have burned with a flash.

 

Attorney Dye volunteered the information that oil tanks held from 5,000 to 7,000 gallons.

 

In the session after dinner, Messrs. McMillan and Coughlin of the Investigating committee, Doorkeeper Brown and Attorney McNulty, with stenographer, went to St. Joseph's hospital where Charles Hammond, Frank Scullin, Louis Dennole and Sister Mary Joseph were examined. The two former have also testified before coroner's jury. Their statements were in accord with the previously published reports of the disaster.

 

James Mullane, the section foreman at Wann, testified that he had been a section foreman for fourteen years; was burned on right hand, ears, neck and head. Said that the explosion could have been avoided with proper precaution. There was no effort to save the burning train. If the water had been turned on to the train or the gravel from other cars it would have prevented the explosion.

 

Testimony introduced by Attorney Dye on behalf of the company:

 

Joseph Ramsey Jr., testified that he had been General Manager of the C. C. C. & St. L. since 1891. Have been railroading since 1869 and since 1872 in the capacities of Superintendent, Chief Engineer and General Manager. We pay as good wages in our yards as any other road. We pay as a rule by the hour. In January 1893 we were paying $2.15 at night and $2.05 per day at Wann. Yard men are not required to coal engines. One man in a yard always has charge of switches. The Wann yard is simple. Only has four sidetracks. Gave description of switches at Wann. We have a yardmaster at Wann and Altons combined. We consider it one yard. Know nothing personally about Gatton. The yardmaster is directly in charge of employing men. We make no test of religion or the fact of belonging to or not belonging to any order whatsoever in employing men. I have been personally thanked by the heads of several labor organizations for our treatment of laborers. The only changes that had been called to his attention was the one where the whole force quit. The inside switches are generally left open and not locked; the main line switches are to be locked all the time. We transport oil in tank cars and sometimes in box cars. In both ways. The principal oil coming to Wann, generally comes from the C. B. & Q. The rule was to inspect cars received from another road and then forward them to their destination. Oil cars are inspected in the day time to avoid danger. Tank cars are considered the safest for transporting oil. I could not suggest any better method.

 

Representative McMillan asked witness regarding some details in shipping oil. Have known of other accidents from oil tanks. Knew of twenty burning on an eastern road, but did not explode. There is more danger of catching fire to barrels, but not so much danger of explosion.

 

We never had complaints from men. We have had frequent conferences with committee from organizations but have nearly always arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. Engineers, conductors, firemen and trainmen all pass an examination. Men are tested as to their hearing, seeing, etc., and as to their physical soundness.

 

The Investigating Committee concluded their investigations last evening and returned to Springfield. In conversation with members of the committee, it was found that there was practical agreement that the committee will introduce bills into the legislature to regulate the employment of men. To examine men employed. Also to provide for side tracks to be exclusively used for oil cars and to be removed at a safe distance from other tracks and not having any direct connection to the main tracks.

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JOHN P. MULLANE - WANN DISASTER VICTIM - UNDERGOES SURGERY

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, May 18, 1897
Mr. John P. Mullane has just concluded a visit of several days duration with his brother, Mr. P. W. Mullane. He was on his way home to Missouri from Indianapolis, where he has spent several months in a surgical institute and where science and skill are doing much towards effacing the awful work on the Wann oil explosion. John's hands which were horribly burned have been fixed up almost as good as new, and the scars in his face are not so deep or distinguishable. He has one new ear grafted on, and the other is being repaired as rapidly as possible. He looks indeed like another person, and says that a few months more at the Institute will make "Richard himself again."

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VICTIM OF WANN EXPLOSION (ANDREW FLYNN) TAKEN TO HOSPITAL FROM EFFECTS OF BURNS

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 28, 1905

Andrew Flynn, 103 years old, was taken to St. Joseph's hospital Sunday afternoon suffering from the effects of burns received by him in the Wann oil explosion twelve years ago. Flynn was a passenger on the train that ran into the oil tank cars on the siding, and with many others was near the tanks when the explosion occurred. His entire body was burned, but his feet have given him the most trouble. Flynn says that after the accident he was brought to Alton and later taken to a hospital at St. Charles, Mo.  There, he says, the surgeons wanted to amputate both his feet, telling him it would be necessary to do so to save his life, but he would not consent to the operation. Flynn now declares it probably would have been better for him had he let the doctors cut off his feet, as they have troubled him more or less ever since the accident, and he is now unable to walk. "The doctors say I have blood poisoning, caused by the burns on my feet," said Flynn, "and I do not expect to live much longer."  The old man states that he remained at the hospital in St. Charles, paying his board, until a few days ago when his money gave out and he returned to Alton, arriving here Saturday night. He went to the Empire house and was removed from that place to St. Joseph's hospital. Flynn says he was born in Cincinnati February 22, 1802, and was in comfortable circumstances at one time. He claims he owned the finest saloon in Cincinnati and also did a bonding business. When the Civil War broke out, many persons for whom he was security failed, he asserts, and he lost $40,000.  He then left Cincinnati and later secured a position as cook for a gang of workmen building the Texas-Pacific railroad. He remained in Texas 25 years, being employed by John Scullin of St. Louis, who had the contract for building the railroad. At the time he was burned he was employed as cook for the construction gang of the Bellefontaine bridge, and was returning from St. Louis after a few days' leave of absence. He says he saved considerable money, but it is all gone now and he is penniless.  He has three daughters and one son, he claims, living in Cincinnati, but has not heard from them for a long time. His wife died forty years ago.  Flynn's faculties are still good and he does not need spectacles, but he is very feeble. He has no appetite and he will go an entire day without food, being unable to eat anything.

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WANN DEPOT AND RESIDENCE BUILDING PURCHASED AND MOVED TO BENBOW CITY

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 23, 1907

A. E. Benbow, who some time ago purchased the depot and residence building at Wann from the Chicago and Alton railroad, succeeded in having the edifice moved outright to Benbow City last week. It was located on a lot there Saturday and this morning he sold the building and lot to Carl Dorflinger of St. Louis for $1,000.

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WANN EXPLOSION VICTIM SUICIDES ... HORRIBLY DISFIGURED AFTER THE EXPLOSION AND UNABLE TO WORK - CUTS OWN THROAT

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 1, 1910

Frank Scullen, one of the victims of the Wann Oil explosion of seventeen years ago, killed himself in the county jail some time during Monday night. He was a frightful cripple, having been burned and very badly disfigured on the face, and his hands were so contorted from the burns that he was able to do very little work. Added to this an appetite for strong drink, he finally drifted to the poor house, notwithstanding the fact that at one time he had enough money to have kept him nicely, had he saved it. Scullen was employed by the Big Four when the explosion occurred, and was in the line of duty when injured. His claim was one of the few that was ever settled by the railroad company, most all the other victims, except railroad employees, being thrown out of court on the ground that they were trespassers on railroad property when they were killed or hurt. Scullen got $3,500, and is said to have spent it in ten days in riotous living. He had been staying at the poor farm for some time. Formerly he was given a home at the Ursuline convent, and at one time was at the hospital, where the kindhearted sisters took care of him, and he did a little work around the place. Strong drink was his undoing there. Finally he had to become a county charge. He had been suffering from hallucinations, and thought that an Alton man was after him. Yesterday he left the poor farm and was finally locked up in the county jail. He was searched, but no weapon was found on him. Charles Trabue, superintendent of the poor farm, says he believes that in his shoe Scullen had concealed a piece of a case knife, about 1 1/2 inches long, and with this he cut his throat, making a thorough job of it. He has a sister at East Alton who did not know where he was. Scullen is reported to have carried an insurance policy on his life, and he inquired about this several days ago to see whether it was still being kept up. It is supposed he had meditated suicide for several days.

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SATURDAY WILL BE NINETEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF WANN EXPLOSION

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, January 19, 1911

Saturday, January 21, will be the nineteenth anniversary of the explosion at East Alton known as the "Wann Explosion," which cost the lives of scores of people and left scores of others disfigured for life. The disaster occurred on a Saturday also, and was caused primarily by a switch being left open by an employee of the Big Four, who conducted a barber shop "on the side," and who neglected to close a switch after several cars loaded with oil had been placed on a side track. A passenger train ran into the switch and into a car, causing the first explosion. It was two hours afterwards that the second and disastrous explosion occurred when people had gathered in squads of hundreds to view the first catastrophe. Practically every house in East Alton and vicinity was converted into a hospital, and St. Joseph hospital in this city was filled to its capacity with victims. There are yet many scarred survivors.

 

 

 

 

WHERE WAS WANN JUNCTION AND WHAT BECAME OF IT??

 

Source: The Telegraph, July 11, 2006
Historic but decrepit train station bites dust
STEPHANIE KISZCZAK , For The Telegraph
 

According to the Telegraph,  the Wann station, located on Shamrock across from Olin Community Credit Union, dates back to the early 1900s [Actually it dates back further than that - at least in the 1890s].  The station's name changed over the years; it was once known as Alton Junction and Wann Junction.   The station also saw various owners over the years, including the New York Central Railroad, said Floyd Ralston, former owner of Community Seed and Feed, a business on Shamrock next to the train station.  After citizens complained about the shabby old station, a demolition permit for the building to be torn down was issued.  A construction crew tore the station down in July of 2006. 

 

Source:  http://www.railfan.net/lists/listphoto.cgi?rshsdepot-07-12-06/AT2_J556.jpg

 

To view a picture of the train station being torn down, click on the link above.  Wann Junction was located near the corner of Shamrock and Main Streets in East Alton, Illinois.
 

 

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