April 20, 2021
I was five years old, my father was selling Chevrolets in Cambridge,
Ohio. He wanted to go into business for himself, but because
his boss in Cambridge wouldn't release him, Chevrolet wouldn't give
him a dealership. So he quit and took a job in Newark.
For six months in the middle of 1952, our family lived at that
halfway location until a dealership became available in Richwood.
summer weekends we'd drive ten miles south from Newark to visit an
amusement park (circled in red above). This former swamp had
become an artificial lake in 1830 when a dike was completed on the
South Fork of the Licking River to fill the Licking Summit
Reservoir. That water was used to replenish the Ohio and
Erie Canal (shown in blue above), which transported freight and
passengers between the Ohio and Cuyahoga Rivers. But the canal
system declined. In 1894 the reservoir was renamed Buckeye
Lake and the area became a pleasure resort. Designated
Ohio's first State Park in 1949, the lake nowadays is mostly lined
with vacation homes.
I learned that there was a great crash of two railroad locomotives
at Buckeye Park on May 30, 1896.
further investigation clarifies that the location wasn't the Buckeye
Lake of my childhood. There was once a different Buckeye Park,
some 15 miles to the southwest. Its name was later changed to
Maplewood Park so that people like me wouldn't be confused.
in 1890, the Columbus & Hocking Valley Rail Road wanted to
increase weekend usage of their line (in black below), so they
established a spacious park for use of the laboring and other
classes of Columbus who desired to lay aside the work and worry of
the week and spend Sunday at a moral resort. After an
inspection of the valley, a picturesque spot seven miles north of
Lancaster was selected and beautified by numerous buildings and an
artificial lake. That's according to the Lancaster Gazette
of July 1, 1891. On that Sunday, The swings and other
arrangements for proper amusement were in active use and the boats
were kept plunging through the lake during the entire day.
site was just southwest of the intersection of Coonpath Road and the
Columbus Pike, present-day Ohio Route 37. It claimed to be the
only resort in central Ohio with facilities for bathing in a lake of
pure spring water with a toboggan slide. To draw paying
passengers all the way out there, what other attractions might be added?
railroad accidents had been in the news for decades when an Illinois
railroad-equipment salesman named A.L. Streeter proposed staging an intentional
collision. While spectators watched, two locomotives on the
same track would smash into each other head-on! The railways
around Chicago weren't interested, but near Canton, Ohio, the
financially strapped Cleveland, Canton & Southern Rail Road was
willing to chance it. Mechanics refurbished two rusting
locomotives, and Streeter announced a price of 75 cents (about $25
today) to witness the collision at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 20, 1895.
high fence was built along the rural tracks so that paying customers
could watch the mayhem from a safe distance. Unfortunately,
most of the crowd bypassed the fence and stood dangerously close to
the projected point of impact. Also, because only about 200
people paid at the gate, Streeter couldn't afford the $2,400 he had
promised the Cleveland, Canton & Southern. The exhibition
was canceled, and angry spectators climbed down from the trees.
tried again with the Columbus & Hocking Valley. The
Lancaster Daily Eagle announced in its May 4, 1896,
edition: Realizing that a very small percentage of the
people at large have ever witnessed a railway collision and believing
that such an exhibition would prove most interesting and attractive
to the masses, the management have completed arrangements with Mr. A.
L. Streeter for such a demonstration as the [season-]opening
attraction of their famous pleasure resort, Buckeye Park.
section of rail was laid in front of the park, elevated so thousands
of people could watch the run from start to smashup. This time
admission would be free; money was to be made by charging for train
rides to and from the park. Twelve special trains from
Columbus, one every half hour, were laid on in addition to the
regular ones. Other spectators would use other forms of transportation.
appeared in the Columbus newspapers, and on May 22, 1896, the
Columbus & Hocking Valley Rail Road placed an ad in the Daily Eagle
announcing the Opportunity of a lifetime to witness a RAILWAY
COLLISION between two 40-ton locomotives, each hauling a train
of four cars, stationed one mile and a half apart and coming together
on a track laid for the purpose in front of Buckeye Park,
Saturday, May 30, 96, 3 p.m. The most expensive,
gigantic and realistic entertainment ever presented for the American
people. Ample train service; low excursion fares; positively no
postponement, rain or shine.
the big day, vehicles of every description were drawn up on
the Columbus Pike half a mile distant from the resort. Hundreds
of cyclers were there, some of them coming from a great
distance. A farmer did charge admission to his field for
parking carriages, and Fred Pickering sold coffee and thousands of
sandwiches in about two hours.
to an account by Clarence Metters in National Magazine: Twenty-five
thousand pairs of eyes were riveted upon one engine or the other as
they rushed together, and so critical was the moment that scarcely a
word was spoken. The name of W.H. Fisher, the railroad's
general passenger agent, was painted on one engine's tender, while
the other bore the name of A.L. Streeter. Lifelike dummies had
been placed in the locomotives. They were dressed in the
regulation engineman's garb, and more than one woman covered her
eyes, dreading to see the monsters come together, feeling that the
trainmen had failed to get off in time and that they were being
carried to a certain and swift destruction. On and on sped the
two iron monsters at the rate of over 40 miles an hour.
than thought, according to the Daily Eagle, there
was a crash, a fearful moan, the hissing and screeching of escaping
steam, the rattle and bang of falling iron and steel, flying pieces
of debris, a last terrible sigh of the dying iron steeds, a settling
of the mass of ruins and all was over.
seekers clambered over the still-steaming wreckage. Later,
they would write enthusiastic descriptions of the experience to their
friends across the country. As the first successful staged
collision, Buckeye Park's event caught the attention of railroad fans
across the nation.
went on to organize similar exhibitions, as did other
promoters. Two months later, William George Crush crashed a
pair of trains in Texas.
rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing
nearer and more distinct with each fleeting second, was like the
gathering force of a cyclone, wrote the Dallas Morning News.
impact, the engine boilers exploded and the crowd of 40,000 people
was showered with jagged projectiles, killing two people and injuring dozens.
the craze of deliberate demolitions continued for another two
decades. I never had the opportunity to witness one, at Buckeye
(Lake) Park or elsewhere.