If you look back on the history of the United States, you are likely to come across some events that surprise you. Some of them have been lost to history as time passes and more information is created to occupy our minds.
There have been several times in my life when I heard about something that happened in the past and I couldn’t believe it. Why had I never heard of this? Understand, I consider myself to be very above average on most subjects involving history in the USA and the world. However, that isn’t really saying much given the way most people can’t tell you when the War of 1812 occurred.
I remember last year seeing some old photos of New York City. This particular series was focusing on a major plane crash that happened in Brooklyn in 1960. It literally crashed in the middle of Brooklyn.
Disaster after disaster has occurred in the USA over the last 100 years and only a few historians or people that happened to live in that area remember them. As time passes and we accumulate more history, the past gets lost.
And these are major disasters where 300 or more people died, such as factory fires or plane crashes like the one I mentioned above. If they happened now, it would get wall-to-wall coverage for a week.
Then there are the non-disaster related events that simply fall into the weird category. These too have been forgotten over the years, some as recently as a few decades ago as you will see. Some of them are funny, while others are simply tragic.
The Great Locomotive Crash Test
Back in 1896, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad got the great idea that it would be really cool to smash two locomotives, each with 6 cars attached, into each other at full speed in front of a bunch of people.
For months, they went around Texas promoting the event and looking for the right sight. They finally settled on a spot just north of Waco, Texas near the town of Crush.
They were expecting tens of thousands of people to show up so they drilled wells and ran pipes all over the area, and set up a large tent to serve food.
The event was held on September 15, 1896. People came in droves. It was a real carnival atmosphere. To their credit, the company didn’t charge for admission into the event, which is the least they could have done considering what transpired.
Town officials had voiced concerns about the engine’s boilers rupturing and exploding but they were assured by the company’s engineer that they were designed to resist ruptures. Despite their reservations, the town of Crush went ahead promoting the event. They were assured all guest would be kept back 100 yards from the crash.
Well, you can imagine what happened.
The trains collided going about 50 mph and if you know anything about physics and weight, the impact translated to a much greater speed. Both boilers exploded like two bombs going off at once sending iron and steel projectiles everywhere. The photographer for the event that took the photo above actually lost an eye.
With metal flying everywhere, people panicked and begin to stampede to escape the danger. Two men and one woman was killed. Almost a dozen people were seriously injured.
However, perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is that other places around the country continued to crash locomotives into each other years after this happened, but there were no other deadly explosions.
Crush TX Train Crash
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Mary the Elephant
If you haven’t heard the story of Mary the elephant, you are likely to be surprised and mortified.
Mary was in a traveling carnival/circus type thing and while in Erwin, Tennessee in 1916, she ended up accidently killing a drifter who had been hired to clean her area. How it actually happened is up for debate, but you can imagine that this man had no training around elephants.
So the owner of the carnival didn’t want the circus banned from the town so he had to come up with something big. The animal would be killed, but how? He decided to make a spectacle out of the whole thing.
They actually tried to electrocute her first but that didn’t work. Next, someone suggested that they chain her to two opposing engines and pull her apart, or the reverse, have her placed between two engines and let them crush her.
Why they wanted to be so cruel, I don’t know, but they were out for blood. Instead of just shooting her in the head, they decided on the humane way…. of hanging her. Yes, you heard me correct.
Well, it still ended up being torture for the poor animal. They placed a chain around her neck but forgot to remove the shackle around her leg so when they started to lift her with a very large crane, the bones in her feet started cracking. So they stopped, unshackled her, then proceeded.
However, they didn’t get her very far off the ground until the chain broke and she fell back on her bottom breaking her hip. She was completely immobilized.
Someone climbed on top of her and placed a heavier chain around her neck and they lifted her again where she died moments later. They left her hanging for a half hour.
Bear vs. Man
In 1947, some promoter thought it would be cool to have a bear box a man in a boxing ring in front of thousands of people outdoors. The bear was obviously tame and must have been declawed but it is funny to watch.
It’s almost as funny as watching that animal bike race that occurred in China last year. They put several animals on bikes and had them pedaling around a small rink and the monkey on the lead bike falls over and gets trapped under the bike, then one of the tigers or something on one of the other bikes stops and begins to eat the monkey as the circus staff tries to beat it with sticks to get it off. Sorry about that folks, but it is funny.
Philadelphia: The City that Bombed Itself
Do you remember that time the government stormed that cult group and everyone in the compound died as a result? No, I’m not talking about Waco, TX, I am talking about something that happened 8 years earlier in Philadelphia.
Despite happening in the 80s, I doubt many people outside of Philadelphia remember this but after you hear what happened, it will not inspire confidence in law enforcement.
The Police had been dealing with a radical black liberation group in Philadelphia called MOVE for over a decade. After several confrontations with Philadelphia Police over a number of years, MOVE barricaded themselves in their residential compound.
At first they tried to talk them out, then they tried firing a lot of bullets into the building, then they tried blasting water inside the home with a fire hose. Then when that didn't work, they got a great idea.
They decided that Wile E. Coyote would go up in a Police helicopter and drop 4 lbs. of C4 onto the house.
The resulting explosion killed all but two people inside including five children. Even worse, the fire spread to the surrounding buildings and leveled the entire block.
As of 2010, what remains of the block is still boarded up.
Philadelphia: The City that Bombed Itself
You may have heard of the Hindenburg disaster, but probably haven’t heard of the others. Yes, this happened over and over again before someone finally decided maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to fill a balloon with Hydrogen.
In fact, these ships were constantly crashing and killing people in Europe and the United States years before the Hindenburg caught fire in 1937.
There was another much more deadly accident involving a ship called the Akron and it occurred 4 years before the Hindenburg.
The Akron was one of two ships commissioned by the U.S. Navy to use for various purposes, one being a floating aircraft carrier.
A month after it was commissioned in 1933, it crashed into the ocean off the coast of New jersey killing 72 people on board. It gets worse.
Another airship was sent out to look for survivors and it crashed killing another 2 people.
One more footnote to this story. The Akron’s sister ship named the Macon, crashed off the California coast 2 years later.
All of this happened before the Hindenburg, but the latter is the only one you ever hear about.
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It is amazing we have gotten to the point we are at now. There have been some strange occurrences and bizarre inventions in the last century, but we keep moving forward. You have to wonder what people will think about us 50 or 100 years from now.
What are the things we are doing now that will have them laughing at us in the future? I can think of a few right off the top of my head, but I will keep that to myself.
History is full of surprises and it is unfortunate that so much of it gets lost with time. I suppose it is better off to forget some things though, like several of the events in this article.