Community remembers those who perished in circus train wreck in Snyder Township

On Sunday, it will have been 111 years since the famous Walter L. Main train wreck in Snyder Township.
Yesterday, dozens gathered at the memorial site to honor the six individuals killed in the accidents, as well as the animals that died on that fateful afternoon.
The memorial service was organized by the local expert on the matter. Susie O’Brien has been studying the accident for many years and often gives speeches and demonstrations on the occurrence.
“The circus held its own memorial service every year from 1895 to 1939,” she said. “After that, Walter L. Main’s circus had disbanded. There were different circuses and people who would stop and do a memorial service, because it was important for the circus employees to honor their own.”
Yesterday’s event was the fourth such service since the one held in 1959 at the Grandview Cemetery. The Tyrone Area Historical Society and the Adam Forepaugh-Barry Lubin “Grandma” Tent No. 2 Circus Fans Association of America worked jointly in developing the service.
The service opened with remarks from O’Brien concerning the importance of such a memorial service and the ones killed in the accident.
Frank Traine was a ticket agent who O’Brien said wasn’t killed immediately in the crash, but died as rescue workers attempted to free him from the rubble. Traine was from Indianapolis, Ind.
Barney Multaney and William Thomas Lee were both laid to rest right here in Northern Blair County. These men worked as canvas men, or laborers, with the railroad. Both, thanks to a generous donation of grave sites by a local businessmen, were buried in Grandview Cemetery.
William Heverly was a brakeman who also died in the crash. He worked for Pennsylvania Railroad. William M. Gates, a laborer for the wrecking crew, died the day after the crash while helping to clean the rubble.
“We’re here to honor these individuals for what they meant to their profession,” said O’Brien. “It’s nice to see that so many people care about the events that took place near here and they want to share some of their time to remember what happened.”
Those in attendance included representatives from the Circus Fan Association David Orr, Wally Stehley, Dennie Huber, Rick Hilton and Cherry the Clown; District Magistrate Fred Miller; Snyder Township Supervisor Charlie Diehl; Frank Fedeli, representing Rep. Larry Sather; and Ray Nycum, representing Rep. Jerry Stern.
Following short presentations by Orr, Miller, Fedelli and Nycum, Rev. Huff offered a memorial service.
He completed the service by singing “Near My God To Thee,” a hymn O’Brien said was sung when Frank Traine’s body was being loaded for transport back to his home state of Indiana, while members of CFA placed a wreath in front of the memorial.
In addition, the Circus Fan Association members helped O’Brien place a wreath at the site (donated by Alice’s Garden), as well as unveil two penne bushes planted on both sides of the memorial.
A tent of memorabilia, including bones and trinkets found at the crash site, and photos of the wreck, was also displayed. O’Brien said there is a small display concerning the accident at the Tyrone History Museum, but noted that a larger display will be offered in September.
“The Circus Fan Association are proud to be here and support this,” said Orr. “It’s been one of our projects here locally, to tie in here with Tyrone Historical (Society).
“I think you can see by the crowd today, that a good number of people are still interested in the circus. And we’re the people that believe in the true America circus, a circus with animals.”
And speaking of animals, when Traine was laid to rest at Grandview Cemetery, two circus elephants scaled the hill to get to the burial grounds, then, using their trunks, lowered wreaths onto each grave site.
“My hopes are that someday we’ll have an elephant here to place a wreath on the memorial,” said O’Brien. “It almost happened this year, but it fizzled. Maybe next year.”
Following the service, Huff offered a buried prayer for the family of a circus acrobat who died while performing in St. Paul, Minn. last week.