The Crash at Crush and Other Train Wreck Spectacles

Men and boys swarm over the wreckage to claim souvenirs in Buckeye Park in Ohio after a staged wreck in 1896. Photo by H.F. Pierson/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

For a brief window from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, people in the United States were watching train wrecks for fun. These staged spectacles would draw thousands and thousands of paying onlookers, but why exactly were they so popular?

Some videos of collisions:

Tracy's Research:

  • Kilen, Mike. "Fairgoers' delightful destruction." Des Moines Register. 1/24/2010.
  • Welter, Ben. "Sept. 5, 1920: Two locomotives collide at the Minnesota State Fair." Star Tribune. 8/26/2014.
  • Boissoneault, Lorraine. "A Train Company Crashed Two Trains. You Will Believe What Happened Next." Smithsonian Magazine. 7/28/2017.
  • Conradt, Stacy. "The Deadly Train Crash That Started a Trend." Mental Floss. 8/28/2015.
  • Deeringer, Martha. "The Deadly Crash at Crush." Texas Co-op Power. 8/2011.
  • Handbook of Texas Online, Allen Lee Hamilton, "Crash At Crush," accessed August 29, 2017,
  • Handbook of Texas Online, Donovan L. Hofsommer, "Missouri-Kansas-texas Railroad," accessed August 29, 2017,
  • Harvey, Steve. "It was a train wreck of an event." Los Angeles Times. 5/29/2011.
  • Marling, Karal Ann. "Blue Ribbon: A Social and Pictorial History of the Minnesota State Fair." Minnesota Historical Society Press.
  • Sanders, J.R. "Crush’s Locomotive Crash Was a Monster Smash." 4/2/2010.
  • Suit, Neal. "Anniversary of train wreck observed at Carroll Library." Baylor Lariat Archives.
  • Goodman, Nan. "Shifting the Blame: Literature, Law and the Theory of Accidents in Eighteenth-century America." Princeton University Press.
  • Jones, Eric and Dan Coffey. "Iowa Curiosities: Quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff." Morris Book Publishing. Guilford, CT. 2010.
  • Price, Mark J. "Local history: Trains collided for fun and profit in late 19th century." Akron Beacon Journal/ 7/13/2014.
  • Partsh, Tammy. "It Happened in Iowa: Remarkable Events That Shaped History." TWDOT. 2017.
  • Rasmussen, Chris. "The Man Who Wrecked 146 Locomotives: The Story of 'Head-On Joe' Connolly." State Historical Society of Iowa. Vol. 70, No. 1. Winter 2011.
  • Cupper, Dan. "Collision course." Railroad History, No. 202 (SPRING-SUMMER 2010). Via JSTOR.

Topics in this Podcast: 19th century, 20th century, smashing things, train wrecks, offbeat history, trains, entertainment history, U.S. history