Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering the Walter L. Main

Lion at the top of the Walter L. Main Train Wreck Memorial
A couple years after I had first visited the memorial to the wreck of the Walter L Main Circus train disaster, I set out to visit the graves of the victims. Five of the six people who were killed in the wreck are buried in Central Pennsylvania: Robert M. Gates, Barney Multaney, William Lee, William Heverly, and James Strayer. The history of the train disaster can be found here: Walter L Main Train Wreck.

I had to wonder how many people outside the circus and Tyrone realized that the victims of the Walter L. Main Circus disaster were buried within a thirty minute drive of the wreck site. This was a fact that I never realized until I started looking into the final resting places of those victims.

Setting out early one foggy morning with Mike, we went in search of those killed in the wreck. The first one we sought was Robert M. Gates, who was the final victim of the train wreck. Robert was employed by the Tyrone repair shops and had been sent to McCann’s Crossing to help with the clean-up. The group was in the process of pulling the tender (the car that carries the train’s fuel) back up the hillside by using large, long ropes when the rope he was helping to pull broke. The rope struck Robert knocking him down. He stood up and immediately fell back down and 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. Robert was the only victim that I did not have a site of burial. What I found in his obituary was a notice he was being buried from his parent's home near Pennsylvania Furnace. Though we did not find Robert’s grave, I found his parents in a partial list of Graysville Cemetery.

Graves of William and Katharine Gates
Graysville Cemetery
Their son Robert was killed during the clean-up of the wreck
 A walk through the cemetery that foggy morning, we discovered William and Katharine Gates, along with a handful of other Gates family members, but no Robert was buried among them. We left the Graysville Cemetery and made a stop at the nearby Pennsylvania Furnace Cemetery. The visit to Pennsylvania Furnace Cemetery proved to be an interesting walk, but again no Robert. More research is going to be needed to find his final resting place, but seeing he was a member of the Presbyterian Church, which stands at the base of the cemetery, I believe he may be buried on the grounds of Graysville Cemetery.

The next stop Mike and I made that day was at the Grandview Cemetery in Tyrone. I found that three of the people killed at the Walter L Main Circus train disaster were buried in Grandview Cemetery. I knew that Barney Multaney and William Lee were buried in Grandview Cemetery, but a quick glance through the cemetery records told me that William Heverly was also buried within the borders. Through some emails, I had a general location of Multaney and Lee's graves, but nothing other than a burial plot for Heverly.

Graves of Barney Multaney and William Lee
Grandview Cemetery, Tyrone
 Finding the graves of the first two took very little time, though I somehow missed them on the first pass. Entering the cemetery grounds, drive straight on the road through the cemetery. Their graves are on the right side of the road almost to the end of the road. The graves are a couple rows back and marked by a small green marker that stands over them.

I stood there in silence remembering the accident and all of those killed during the wreck. Though the circus stopped here for years after the wreck to pay tribute to their fallen family members, very few people visit their graves anymore.

Grave of William Lee, Grandview Cemetery
Grave of Barney Multaney, Grandview Cemetery
Note: His stone spells his last name as Multany
Reading the information on the sign, I discovered some conflicting information: William Lee may have been born in China, but was listed as being from Nebraska, while Barney Multaney was from New York. Note: Among the listed dead is a William Mutterly (of nearby East Freedom). He appears on the initial lists of those killed in the wreck, but then disappears from the listings. My personal thoughts are his name was confused with William Multaney, which is why he was on the list of the deceased.

After paying my respects to Multaney and Lee, I realized that the plot number I had in hand was seemingly meaningless. The overall size of Grandview Cemetery prevented me from walking it to find William Heverly's grave. Heverly was a brakeman on the train and when the train derailed he jumped clear; unfortunately he didn't jump far enough and was crushed beneath the wreck.

It took almost two years, but I managed to find the final resting place of William Heverly. I arrived that day to find the headstone that I am convinced is his. The stone has been toppled and while the name Heverly is clearly engraved on the base, I could not find a name on the rest of the stone which is standing next to the base. There is a Forrest Heverly listed as being buried in the same plot and I found Forrest’s tombstone, so I am convinced that the old stone is the marker for William’s grave. Note: In many lists, there appears a William Henterly, a brakeman from Tyrone. Henterly and Heverly are the same man.

Grave of William Heverly, Grandview Cemetery, Tyrone
The years have not been nice to his memorial
To find William’s grave, stand at the graves of Multaney and Lee and look uphill towards the woods. His grave is in almost a straight line behind their graves, to the left of the mausoleum at the top of the hill and behind the small wall that borders the top roadway.

The final gravesite Mike and I visited that day was the grave of James Strayer. 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 to Lewistown to see the next performance of the circus 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.

Mike and I arrived at the Saint Lawrence Cemetery in Houtzdale to pay our respects to James.

“Where are we going to start?” Mike asked.

“Those old stones over there,” I pointed to the rear, left hand side of the cemetery. Within minutes Mike announced he had found James’ resting place. After paying our respects to him, we made a quick stop at the memorial for the train wreck before ending our day of showing respect to those who died in the wreck.

Grave of James Strayer
Saint Lawrence Cemetery, Houtzdale
The only victim not buried in Central Pennsylvania is the 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 off  him and as the last piece of lumber was removed he passed. Frank’s death is even more tragic when it is 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. His body was returned to his family in Indiana for burial.

Newspapers of the time record a couple more deaths, but I have not been able to verify them. William Evans (of Williamsburg) and Louis Champaign (of Rochester, NY) have been placed on some lists of the dead. These two names show up in the lists of the victims for months after the wreck before disappearing. Some have suggested that these two men were injured and died some time after the wreck occurred.

The aftermath of the wreck of the Walter L. Main Circus forever connected this community, 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.

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