Just before dawn on May 30, 1893, the Walter L. Main circus train carrying dozens of animals and performers ran off the tracks in an epic crash in central Pennsylvania.
Five people, at least 50 horses and two "sacred cows" were killed in the accident. A tiger was reportedly shot after escaping from the wreckage and attacking a cow on a nearby farm.
The wreck was cleared in just three days and the circus moved on within a week. The animals that were killed were said to have been buried in a mass grave near the site, though historians don’t know exactly where it is.
A team of archaeology grad students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania recently probed the site of the crash looking for clues to the animal grave. Here, a Mala RAMAC X3M ground-penetrating radar is poised to look under the modern surface of the accident site. In the background at right, a small memorial commemorates the crash.
The geophysical data showed a "low reflective anomaly," circled in this image. This means there is likely less metal buried in this area. The team from IUP expected to see a higher reflective anomaly, indicating buried parts of the train wreckage. It's possible that the grave lies outside of the study area. For now, its location remains a mystery.
A view of the wreck from above.
The embankment at McCann's Crossing where the train left the tracks. A medical tent was set up just beyond the wreckage, near the trees in this photo.
Minimal Loss of Life
The sleeper cars never left the tracks. Only five people were killed in the accident.
The train crashed into property owned by a man named Hiram Friday who had just cleared his land for farming, as the tree stumps in this photo show.
Shortly after the wreck, Hiram Friday's daughter Hannah was milking a cow on the farm when the tiger attacked and killed the animal. An injured Civil War veteran, Hiram Friday didn't allow guns in his home. A bear hunter was called in to kill the tiger. Its skull hangs in a local hunting club today.
Friday's descendants still live on the property today. When building homes, they've found bones, horseshoes, wood and scroll work from a circus wagon, a railroad spike, an iron donkey bottle opener and a bolt and lock from one of the lion cages.
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