Author Richard M. Lytle is surprised by how many Northwest Indiana residents have never heard of "the great circus train wreck of 1918" in Hammond.
Lytle, who retired last year from the Hammond Public Library, wrote "The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918: Tragedy on the Indiana Lakeshore" (2013 History Press $19.99), a 109-page archive-photo filled paperback to chronicle the freak accident of the local railways.
"First of all, there were no animals, exotic or otherwise, involved in the wreck," he said in a 2014 interview.
In the cool, predawn hours on that June night in 1918, a train engineer closed his cab window as he chugged toward Hammond. He drifted to sleep, and his train bore down on the idle Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train. Soon after, the sleeping engineer's locomotive plowed into the circus train.
In the subsequent wreckage and blaze, more than 200 circus performers were injured and 86 were killed, most of whom were interred in a mass grave in the Showmen's Rest Section of Chicago's Woodlawn Cemetery.
(Photo provided by the Hammond Public Library)