The railroad arrived in Hill County in 1879. Just as nowadays there are often rubberneckers [more] at the site of automobile accidents, back then crowds would flock to the site of railroad collisions.
William George Crush, a passenger agent for the MKT Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy) railroad, noticed this in 1895 and proposed a staged train crash as a publicity stunt for the railroad. A shallow valley was found just south of the Hill-McClennan county line, and the temporary town was named Crush. Two engines, Old No. 999, painted a bright green, and No. 1001, painted a brilliant red, were displayed in towns throughout the state ahead of time.
Grandstands, a bandstand, a circus tent from Ringling Brothers to be used as a restaurant, a carnival midway, and a depot marking the town of "Crush, Texas" were setup. Thomas Edison sent one of his cameramen from New York to capture the crash on film.
The railroad offered two dollar round-trip tickets from anywhere in the state and on September 15, 1896, the first trains began arriving at dawn. The train passed through Whitney at 10:15 am, picking up passengers heading south to view the event. Others headed from Whitney to Crush via private conveyance. Spectators from Hillsboro boarded train cars also bound for the event. Train service between Hillsboro and Waco was shut down for the day.
About 40,000 people showed up on 33 fully-loaded excursion trains, with some passengers riding on top of the cars because there was no room left inside. They gathered on the hills surrounding the site, making the town of Crush, Texas temporarily the second-largest city in the state.
At 5 p.m. the engines nosed toward each other and "shook hands" before backing into position. Agent Crush, riding a borrowed white horse, threw down a white hat as a signal and got out of the way. The two trains, pulling boxcars covered with advertising and loaded with railroad ties, each backed up about one mile. The engineers and crew opened the engines to full throttle, and jumped from the trains. Each train reached a speed of about 45 miles per hour by the time they met near the anticipated spot.
|Crowd gathers on top of crashed trains|
Mechanics had assured railroad officials that there was no chance of the two boilers exploding, but they were wrong. The force of the impact telescoped both engines and the boilers exploded. The Whitney Messenger dated September 19, 1896 reported that "the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel, falling indiscriminately on the just and the unjust, the rich and the poor, the great and the small." Two people were killed and more injured, including Jarvis "Joe" Deane from Waco who was photographing the event. In spite of the tragedy, people flocked to what was left of the trains to pose for photographs.
Just a month after the event, ragtime composer Scott Joplin, a Texas-born composer and son of an emancipated slave, wrote a piano piece called the "Great Crush Collision March" to commemorate the crash. Joplin was performing in the region at the time and possibly witnessed the event. The piece is notable because it included instructions in the score for how to replicate the sounds of the trains' collision through playing techniques, specific notes, and the use of dynamics. The trains begin their run towards each other just after three quarters of the way into the piece, followed quickly by the crash.
Promoter Crush was fired that day, but then quickly rehired after the company’s president decided that the crash had indeed brought a lot of publicity to the Katy.