A visit to the Hagenbeck Wallace crash site

Woodlawn Cemetery is the final resting place of 53 circus performers who were killed in a train crash near Ivanhoe, Indiana on June 22, 1918.  As the Hagenbeck Wallace circus train approached Hammond, it pulled onto a sidetrack in order to cool an overheated wheel bearing box.  The front segment of the 26-car train now rested on the Gary & Western Railroad tracks, heading west into Hammond.  The rear of the train sat on the Michigan City Railroad tracks on which section 2 had traveled from Michigan City, Indiana during the night.  The middle cars rested on the crossover spur.  Although the crewmen had taken proper safety precautions, including setting up red flares, an empty troop train was approaching at full speed from behind.  The engineer of the troop train, Alonzo Sargent, who had previously been fired for sleeping on the job.  Ignoring the red lights, at Signal No. 2581 and the efforts, of a frantic flagman to signal the oncoming train, it plowed into the back of the circus train, destroying three sleeping cars before finally coming to a halt.

A fire then broke out.  Survivors of the crash, trapped under the wreckage, were unable to free themselves and escape the flames.  Most of the 86 people who died in the accident succumbed due to being trapped under the wreckage. There were also 127 injuries.

The catastrophe led to the Showmen’s League of America, which organized to create a common burial plot, Showmen’s Rest, for many who died.  The site is marked with concrete statues of elephants with their trunks hanging down, a sign of sadness.  This led many to believe that animals were buried here as well as circus entertainers. This is untrue. In fact no circus animals were onboard the train that was hit.

Most of those killed had burned to death, some beyond recognition.  Many graves at Showmen’s Rest are marked simply with Unknown Male, “Baldy”, “4 Horse Driver” or nicknames because of the nature of their profession.  Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the “Great Dierckx Brothers”, strong man act and Jennie Ward Todd of “The Flying Wards”.  Hagenbeck Wallace Circus only missed a single performance, the one in Hammond.  By the next day they had borrowed enough acts from other circuses to be able to put on the scheduled show in Beloit, Wisconsin.


Located at:  near the town of Ivanhoe, Indiana GPS coordinates W 87 24 48 and N 41 34 50

Hauntings: No known hauntings have been reported at this tragic train crash which will mark the 100th anniversary in 2018. A great loss of life at any location however can be the impetus for paranormal activity and sightings in the future. There is no memorial plaque marking the location but with the anniversary of the wreck coming up soon, hopefully there will be. 

However at Woodlawn Cemetery, it is told that on certain nights the ghostly sounds of animals can be heard reverberating from the ground beneath you!  In fact, a North Riverside Police Officer, Sergeant John O'Rourke,  on routine patrol one evening in the cemetery actually encountered the sounds for himself.  It’s a colorful story but is not true.  Actually the animal sounds that are heard come from nearby Brookfield Zoo just to the west of the cemetery.  On certain clear nights, sounds from the zoo can travel for miles and make it seem that they are all around you.






The GRS visited the site of the Hagenbeck Wallace train crash August 27, 2016 and the team included: Stan Suho, Chuck Williams, Kathie Para, Marge Sucha, Barbara Meagher and Dale Kaczmarek 









Equipment setup: No equipment was set up. Only some handheld devices, digital recorders and cameras were used.

Experiments performed: An EVP was conducted on the train tracks using Meagher's cell phone.  Williams conducted a live Facebook feed and walked down to the site of old Ivanhoe station.

Personal experiences:

Kathie Para: GRS members spent a very hot summer day visiting several haunted Indiana locations. Those present were: Dale, Stan, Marge, Barb, Chuck and I.

After parking and walking quite a distance and fighting off bugs, we reached the actual site of the train wreck that occurred in 1918. I didn’t bring any equipment along with me with the exception of a camera, but some of the group did and we conducted an EVP session on the tracks. I don’t know if anyone got any responses but there was a solemn air around us.

The 100th anniversary of the crash is coming up and I think that might be a good time for a return visit.

Chuck Williams: Brunswick neighborhood of Gary, land used to belong to Hammond, later annexed to Gary.  Area at one time was called Ivanhoe while part of Hammond, and is still referred to that in some instances.  We got out to investigate the site.  Just had a recorder (Due to human error, no recordings were collected here-sorry), I had my Sony Handycam, but had operating issues with it, and the glaring sun made operation very difficult.  I did take some Full Spectrum pics, and pics with the iPhone.

A small EVP session was held, but I went in search of the Ivanhoe tower location, and found they had replaced it (Most towers were demolished by the 1990’s) with electronic switching equipment.  I found Dale an old railroad spike for his collection of haunted location artifacts. 

Stan Suho: The tracks, site of a serious train disaster, 100 years ago, could be a different story. We were there on an extremely hot day with the sun beating down on those tracks. It turned them into a no-man’s land. I only carried my Sony Night shot camera and a VHS Camcorder. I took a bunch of daylight photos up and down the tracks. as well as videos. We stuck it out as long as we could, and after taking some GPS readings, we moved along.

Conclusions: I told the group that this could be a good place to revisit, perhaps after Climate Change kicks in. I'd like to focus two IR cameras up and down the tracks. In addition we could do some extensive EVP. Even after 100 years, with many people dying here, there are probably some residual haunts to be tapped into here. I always liked trains, especially stream trains.

Dale Kaczmarek: A most interesting area. Having visited Woodlawn Cemetery many times in the past, it was refreshing to see the actual crash site to get a better perspective on how this tragedy occurred. I brought along my digital recorder and attempted an EVP session only to find that my batteries were completely drained. They were fully charged before coming to the site so I can't be sure what caused them to go dead, unless something or someone needed the energy from them. Nothing was felt except a general sadness about the place. I took some pictures and Meagher used her cell phone for an impromptu EVP session. Apparently nothing was picked up.

Evidence collected: None.

Conclusions: A more thorough examination/investigation of this location should be in order and perhaps even on June 22, 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the crash. Residual phenomena can last centuries but not all locations were accidental and/or massive deaths occurred become haunted. The passage of time at these locales can often have a lot to do with the diminished  or lack of activity. Our team visited this location on perhaps one of the hottest days of the summer, so our visit was limited to standing in the shadows of trees, wherever possible and we left after around 30 minutes or so.

Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
© 2016 Dale Kaczmarek. All rights reserved.
Web site created by Dale Kaczmarek