Note: The first part of the Walter L. Main wreck can be found here: Wreck of the Walter L. Main
“Where are we off to today?” Mike asked as he plopped down in the passenger’s seat.
“Here and there,” I replied. “Have some cemeteries we need to visit.”
“Who are we looking for?”
“The victims of the Walter L. Main train wreck.”
“You think we’ll find them in this fog?”
“I hope so,” I laughed. While it was a foggy morning, I doubted we’d have too many problems in our search. I had to wonder how many people realized five of the six victims of the Walter L. Main Circus disaster were buried within a thirty minute drive of the wreck site. Those victims buried in Central Pennsylvania are: Robert M. Gates, Barney Multaney, William Lee, William Heverly, and James Strayer.
The first grave we sought was Robert M. Gates, who was the final victim of the train wreck and the only grave I did not have a lot of information about. Robert was employed by the Tyrone repair shops and had been sent with a group of men to McCann’s Crossing to help with the clean-up. The group was in the process of pulling the tender – the car that carried the train’s fuel – up the hillside when the large rope he was helping pull broke. The rope struck Robert knocking him down. Robert managed to get to his feet on his own, before immediately falling down. Robert died soon after from his injuries. The only visible injury on Robert was a cut on his head but the rope had struck him in the chest causing massive internal injuries.
Upon arriving at Graysville Cemetery, Mike and I spread out in search of Robert’s grave. “Are you even sure he’s buried here?” Mike asked as we walked the cemetery grounds searching the stones for Robert’s grave..
“No, I’m not,” I had to admit. The only mention I have of him being buried here was in his obituary and it stated he was being buried from his parent’s home near Pennsylvania Furnace. I knew his parents are listed as being buried in Graysville Cemetery.
A walk through the cemetery that foggy morning, we discovered William and Catharine Gates – Robert’s parents – his brothers William and Roland and a number of other Gates family members, but no Robert was buried among them. He was listed as a member of the Presbyterian Church, which stands at the base of the cemetery, so I believe he is buried on the grounds of Graysville Cemetery in a grave that was either unmarked or the stone has disappeared.
Leaving these sacred grounds, we headed into Tyrone to the Grandview Cemetery. Within the grounds of the cemetery, three of the victims were buried. Barney Multaney and William Lee, who worked for the circus, and brakeman William Heverly, are all buried in the grounds of Grandview Cemetery.
I entering the cemetery grounds and continued straight on the roadway and discovered the first two graves near the end of the roadway on the right. The simple stones of Barney Multaney and William Lee are guarded by a small green marker standing over them. The two circus laborers were discovered deceased among the wreckage. Of those killed, these two would receive visits from the circus whenever it came through town Note: Reading the information on the sign, I discovered some conflicting information. The sign lists Lee was being born in China, but newspaper articles state he was actually from Lincoln, Nebraska.
William Heverly’s grave was a little harder to find. I had the plot number and headed in the general direction of the grave. We walked past it twice before we decided the small, toppled stone had to be his. I paused and studied the weathered base and were able to determine the name on the base was “Heverly.” Studying the toppled stone, I could barely make out the name William on the stone. I finally got it to the point where I was able to determine this small, toppled column marked the grave of the brakeman killed in the wreck. According to newspapers Heverly managed to jump from the train as it derailed, but unfortunately he didn’t jump far enough and was crushed beneath the wreck. Note: In many lists, there appears a William Henterly, a brakeman from Tyrone. Henterly and Heverly are the same man.
Leaving Grandview Cemetery, our next stop was at the memorial. Although I had been here a number of times before, I approached the memorial with a different attitude. For the first time, I realized that this place too was a burial ground as many of the animals were buried where they had fallen or were recovered. Mike and I paused at the memorial to remember not only the people but the animals killed in the derailment.
Our next stop was Houtzdale and the resting place of the final victim for whom we were looking. Buried in the grounds of Saint Lawrence Cemetery in Houtzdale is James Strayer. Mike and I walked through the cemetery to the older portion. As we approached, I could see the column that marked James’ grave. We paused at it to pay our respects to the young man.
The reason James was on the train that day is unclear. Papers at the time list him being on the train because he had recently been hired by the circus, along with his friend John Eddings. Other newspapers at the time claim the two boys were on board hoping to get work with the circus. A third newspaper article, and the one most believe to be accurate, claims that the two boys had merely hitched a ride on the circus train to see the show in Lewistown and were planning on returning home after that show.
What is known is both boys were thrown clear of the wreck. John ended up with scratches on his face. James landed a couple feet away with internal injuries that claimed his life less than an hour later. John accompanied his friend’s body back to Houtzdale, were he was buried.
The only victim of the train wreck not buried in Central Pennsylvania is circus treasurer Frank Train (also spelled Traine in many articles). Frank was trapped under the wreckage and begged for people to help him get out before he died. Newspapers reported it took close to two hours to remove the wreckage and as the last piece of lumber was removed he passed. Frank’s death is even more tragic when it was learned that Frank was tired of being away from his family and had approached Walter Main about leaving. Walter talked Frank into staying with the circus until after Lewistown to which Frank agreed. Sadly Frank never made it to Lewistown. Frank’s body was returned home and buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana.
Newspapers of the time record a couple more deaths, but I have not been able to verify them. William Evans of Williamstown, and Louis (also spelled Louie) Champaign of Rochester, New York are often included in the list of those killed as a result of the derailment. Evans was well enough to be released from Altoona Hospital two days after the wreck. His father had arrived in Altoona and took William back home to Dauphin County. The last report for Louis stated he was still recovering from his injuries.
Also listed among the initial listing of those killed is William Mutterly. I believe this name was confused with William Multaney, which is why he was on the list of the deceased but quickly removed.
As Mike and I concluded our journey, with an understanding of how the wreck of the Walter L. Main Circus forever connected this community and this region with the circus now and forever. Though the victims of this tragedy have been forgotten by most, they lie forever in the gardens of stone in our own backyard, silently remembering those killed in the derailment.
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