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Memorial service held to honor those lost in Walter L. Main Circus train accident

Memorial service
A large crowd gathered yesterday along Van Scoyoc Road, near the Tyrone Sportsmen’s Club, at the site of the Walter L. Main Circus Train Wreck memorial. Those in attendance were able to view a display set up in honor of the train wreck. (The Daily Herald/Amanda Golden)

A large crowd gathered yesterday along Van Scoyoc Road, near the Tyrone Sportsmen’s Club, at the site of the Walter L. Main Circus Train Wreck memorial.
Yesterday’s service was held to honor the five individuals, and numerous animals, killed in the tragic accident that occurred 115 years ago on May 30, 1893.
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, which was organized by the local expert on the matter, Susie O’Brien, who has been studying the accident for many years and often gives speeches and demonstrations on the occurrence.
From 1895 to 1939, the circus held a memorial service every year but eventually the Walter L. Main Circus disbanded, ending the services. After that, different circuses traveling through the area would stop at the site of the crash to remember those who perished in the train wreck of 1893.
In 1958, a special service was held at Grandview Cemetery, where some of the deceased are buried, with circus employees present.
A monument was dedicated at the wreck site in May of 1975 with local dignitaries and residents present, at which time a small tribute was performed.
This year’s ceremony was the seventh memorial service held since 1958 and organizers have been working hard to continue this tradition each year.
Three of the five individuals who died in the accident were employees of the circus, while some were employed by the railroad. Others died of injuries received following the crash and during clean-up of the debris.
O’Brien also often mentions young John Strayer, a 13-year-old boy from Houtzdale. She said Strayer and a few of his young friends decided to run away from home and join the circus. The boys jumped the train in Osceola Mills, but Strayer later found himself alone on the train after his friends got cold feet and went home. He died in the accident.
Those attending this year’s memorial service included special guest speaker, Diane Meling, Rev. Norman Huff and representatives from the Circus Fan Association, Tyrone Masonic Lodge No. 494, Tyrone Elks Lodge No. 212, Tyrone Sportsmen Club, Snyder Township officials and local dignitaries.
Following short presentations by O’Brien and Meling, 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 one of the bodies was being loaded for transport back to his home state of Indiana.
At the conclusion of the service, a wreath was placed at the memorial.
As always, O’Brien had on hand her many artifacts from the train wreck, which were available for individuals to view following the service.
David Orr, Secretary/Treasurer of Adam Forepaugh-Barry Lubin “Grandma” Tent No. 2, also spoke, reminding those present the circus is still a very active part of today’s society.
He also spoke of Tent No. 2, saying the group was originally chartered in 1930 and eventually was disbanded, but was reactivated in 1999-2000. He said O’Brien is very active in the organization and recently received a national award for her work in education.
For more information on the Circus Fans Association of America visit
Anyone with questions about this specific event can contact Susie O’Brien at 684-1873 or by email at
Also, with so many stories centering around this tragic event, a new book by Paula Zitzler, with information provided by O’Brien, is scheduled to be available this summer. Interested individuals can track the progress at the author’s research blog at