May 4, 1892 Wreck north of Otis

The following story appeared in the May 4, 1892 Edition of the Michigan City News

Story and photos courtesy of Betty Smith from San Diego California. Her Great Grandfather John C. Murray was killed in this accident.

Dashed To Death

Horrible Wreck At Midnight On The Monon

There was a horrible wreck on the Monon at midnight, Sunday night, that surpassed any in point of horrible results that has ever happened near this city.

The heavy rain fell Sunday afternoon and evening was the cause of the accident. While this fierce electrical storm was raging in this city near the hour of midnight, a freight train of eleven cars drawn by Engine Number 27, with John Murray at the throttle, was dashing on to a terrible fate. The train was made up at Monon and while consisting of few cars was a heavy one, being ladened with pig iron, coal and lumber. The train pulled out from Monon a few moments past seven o'clock. The usual time was made and no thought of fear was entertained by the crew. The road was known to be in good condition, the bridges substantial and the rain was not thought sufficient to swell the streams to a perilous condition. However, danger lay in the direction that had not been contemplated. The train passed through the small mail station of Otis about midnight without making a stop. One mile this side of the village is small stream of water that was spanned by a bridge some fifty feet in length.

The Bridge

The bridge was a very stout one, the largest piling being used in its construction. It was in perfect condition, having been recently reconstructed according to the statement of bridge carpenter Kenny. New pilings forty feet in length had been put in. They were driven in the ground to a depth of ten feet and around this stone had been dumped. Apparently it was in the best of condition. However, had it been several times as strong it could not have resisted the volume of water that burst upon it in the earliest part of the night. Some twenty rods above the bridge on the creek stands John Barn's lumber mill at the further end of this is a big high dam across the stream, shutting off the water to furnish the power. The heavy rains yesterday afternoon and night had swollen the stream out of its banks. The dam all a once gave way under this terrible pressure of water, and like an avalanche it swept down its course. The mill was lifted from its foundation and hurled down the stream with frightful velocity. The bridge piling instantly gave way as the tremendous weight struck it, down stream swept the bridge and the mill, leaving a long dark gap in the railway that meant death and destruction. No eye had seen the catastrophe or ear had heard it. The first warning was when the midnight freight dashed along and the engine leaped into the rushing waters below, following, car after car crashed downward, emptying their heavy loads of iron, coal and lumber. Under all this mess of cars and the engine were the forms of three men, crushed into shapeless masses.

The railway before reaching the bridge forms a short curve and is down grade so that it was impossible to see the condition of affairs from the engine. The last two cars of the train, a freight and caboose luckily remained on the track, the wreck piling up high enough to stop them. In the caboose was Conductor John Litkey and two other train men all of whom escaped without injury. They at once ran back to Otis and gave the alarm.

Gave The Alarm

Word was immediately telegraphed to different points. A switch engine was at once dispatched from Otis to the scene of the disaster. But no assistance could of course be given. The men in the wreck were evidently dead as not a murmur arose from the black mass of ruin except the rushing of waters. All that could be done was to gaze upon the awful scene. A wrecking train with a steam derrick was dispatched from Monon shortly after the receipt of the news. It reached the place long before daylight but little could be done however until morning when work at clearing away was begun.

The Dead

Up to eleven o'clock Monday morning no word had been received of the recovery of any of the bodies. It the engine at the time of the wreck was Engineer John Murray, who lived on Fourth Street in this city with his family consisting of a wife and five children. He has long been an employee on the railroad and was in every way reliable and faithful. He has numerous friends in this city who are much pained to hear of his sad death which seems more terrible owing to the tragic manner in which it occurred.

Fireman Jim Bowen was also in the engine. He lived at Monon and was married. The position of Elmer Brown on the train can only be surmised. If he was on a hot box at the time of the wreck, he must have been on the one immediately behind the tender and have been crushed down on the engine. The general opinion of those who have viewed the ruins, is that he was in the engine at the time of going down as no trace of him has yet been found. He was a young man well known in this city: for a number of years he worked at the barber trade in this city, and was quite popular and well liked. More than a year ago he began braking on the Monon road, and has been an employee on that and other roads ever since. He has not lately however been working on the Monon, but took Edward Buckley's run over the road Saturday night for an accommodation. His father was formerly employed on the same road near Medaryville a year ago and lost an arm by slipping and falling.


Pictured is a wreck that happened May 4, 1892 at Otis, Indiana. The engine was from the Louisville, Indianapolis and New Albany (Monon) Railroad.




Otis train wreck, side view. Workers and spectators search the wreckage.





Wreck location circa 2003. The bridge was replaced with a culvert and fill many years ago. Perhaps not long after the accident.




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