Naperville Days      Tragedies, Large & Small

The great train wreck . . .

 

… one of the worst ever in this country -- happened on April 26, 1946, in Naperville, where the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's Exposition Flyer, racing at 85 mph, rammed into the back of the railroad's Advance Flyer, which was stopped in the Naperville station. The wreck killed 45 people and injured more than 100.

SCN Media August 2005

 

On this day I remember both my father and my mother, a welder and a nurse, coming home quite late. My father in particular was ashen gray and wouldn’t speak. As I recall it, he took a few shots of straight bourbon and went to bed. My mother, perhaps somewhat more inured to carnage from her days in the hospital, explained: there had been a train wreck by the railroad station, a bad one. My dad, and I suppose all the other welders in town, were called upon to bring their cutting torches and cut apart the wreck trying to save as many people as possible and retrieve bodies. My mother was enlisted to help the city’s few doctors triage the patients and get them onto transportation to Copley hospital in Aurora and to hospitals in the east.

The incident was never mentioned after that.

 

The missing children . . .

 

One day in the late forties or early fifties, two young children disappeared in Naperville. It was not known what had happened to them, but the quarries and the river were, as usual, suspected. After a few days of futile search it was decided by someone, perhaps the mayor, to drain the Big Quarry. This was quite an undertaking involving brush clearing, some earthmoving, the setting up of a very large pump and piping between the quarry and the river, and the manning of the pump 24 hours a day for days on end, the water being pumped from the quarry to the river. Flood lights lit the area at night and many of us teenagers hung around watching the action. The story was picked up by the Chicago newspapers. The excitement was palpable.

The police, some of my friends and I, as well as many other volunteers, searched the riverbanks, to no avail. Some of us also walked, stooped over, far up the city’s large storm sewers to see if they had wandered up these large conduits and we’re somehow stuck there, or dead. We wanted to help. The thought of finding a dead body was at once frightening and compelling.

I learned an interesting thing from this endeavor, perhaps picking up a certain strain of skepticism unconsciously from my parents: the desire of many men to undertake challenges like this and render extraordinary service in a common undertaking. It apparently is built into the species. But after awhile I sensed for myself that many people felt this Herculean effort was not warranted by the circumstances, and that the “heroes” of the project were involved as much for the excitement as for the result. In my youth however, and in my first experience of such matters, I didn’t want to see this, instead I gloried in the great citizenship of it all.

Some weeks later, after the quarry had been emptied and nothing was found, the great pump disassembled, the lights turned out, the men gone and the site cleaned up, the bodies of the two drowned children were found far down river.

The big quarry slowly filled back up.

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