Sunday, February 3, 2013

Worth County Car-Train Wreck

Three months before my 5th birthday my family was devastated by the worst car-train wreck in Worth County history, probably to this day.  Mom's brother Marvin, Dad's cousin Fern, their three children and Fern's niece were all killed.

The accident happened at 11:15 AM on Sunday, May 22, 1949. Apparently they were heading to church services at Deer Creek Valley Lutheran on the State Line, located one mile further north and about five miles east..  They had just turned east on what is today 500th Street and by rumor may have been distracted by something on Highway 65 ahead and to their left.  Stateline Cemetery was directly ahead of them, on the other side of 65.  They continued on to the railroad tracks that run along 65 where they collided with a northbound Rock Island passenger train according to news reports of the day.

The photo here accompanied the story as written in either the Anchor or the Globe-Gazette, and seems graphic by today's standards.

My family was attending an end-of-the-year school party at the Grove Township school perhaps 2 miles East of the scene as the crow flies, and about one mile north of the farm where I was raised, on today's S48.  Knowing we were there, an aunt and uncle came to notify my folks of the accident.  When they turned into the driveway, someone grabbed Dad by the sleeve and said, "I think they're here to see you."

Clearly he already knew.

I have long had the memory of this day at Grove Township school, without really knowing for sure that it was the day.  I hear women shrieking in anguish, and one woman, either my mother or my aunt, running in my direction almost aimlessly, crying as she ran.  I visualize a tall stand of trees on my left, and a white building on my right, and I am sure that I was on the north side of the school house facing east.  The memory is short, perhaps only five seconds of my life.

I was also there when my mother and her sisters were cleaning out the home where they had lived, and there was no gaiety that day, highly unusual for these women.  It was much too somber.  All business.  And just another five seconds of memory.

Some time later Dad and my Uncle Kermit happened to go into a tavern in Northwood, which Dad rarely did.  This time Jake Jaspers was sitting at the bar, called them over, and offered to buy them a beer.  He had come upon the scene shortly after it occurred and told them he saw thick black hair on one victim and knew immediately that it was Marvin, but he was shooed away by law enforcement on the scene.

Somehow word came back from the engineer who must have had nightmares the rest of his life. Marvin and Fern knew they were going to be hit because at the moment of impact he was reaching for her as if to protect her, and she had a look of shock on her face.  How would you sleep at night with that memory?

Marilyn, the oldest child, would have graduated in 1962 like four of her cousins, but for the life snuffed short.  Sadly, she was instead honored in the funeral held two days later at DCV, attended by a few hundred people, many having to stand outside.

An eternal candles stands on the altar of First Lutheran Church, a common practice in many churches, I suppose, and both Richard Holstad and Bonnie Mack have told me their understanding was that it is in memory of a family killed in a horrible accident.  Without checking church history one can only say perhaps it was, or perhaps it was purchased and donated in their memory.  That would be appropriate.

All of our memories of NKHS are not happy, and though this one is not of NKHS so much as it is personal, I can't help but share this story, especially as my family elders are disappearing, this family completely so many years ago.  I honestly have no direct memories of Marilyn but have the thought that she would have been a very good person, and she may have graduated with us had her life not been shortened.  Each time I drive to Northwood I drive through the intersection and am reminded.

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