|29 killed on way to 1904
World's Fair By Beccy Tanner The Wichita Eagle
It was the fall of 1904, and Kansans were anxious to see their state's exhibits at the World's Fair in St. Louis.
Railroads offered special roundtrip tickets enticing farmers, journalist, families and Church groups to the Exposition. And at $10 to $18 for a roundtrip ticket, Kansans could afford to see the latest in technological wonders, curiosities and amusements.
But a train wreck in Warrensburg, Mo., on Oct. 10 that year devastated many Kansans. The train headed to the fair was filled, mainly with residents from the south eastern part of the state.
"Twenty-nine persons were killed and sixty injured by a collision of Missouri Pacific trains three miles east of Warrensburg at 4 o'clock this morning," The Wichita. Daily Eagle reported on Oct. 11, 1904. "Twenty seven of the dead are in undertaking rooms of the city, and the seriously wounded are in the railroad hospital in Sedalia, Mo."
The dead came from towns like Dexter, Sedan, Pittsburg, Cedar Vale, Coffeyville, Kingman, Winfield, Wellington and Oxford.
One of the hardest hit families was the L. B. Sullivan family of Cedar Vale. Their six children were on board.
The Cedar Vale paper reported that a moment before the crash, the oldest Sullivan children - Dollie, 19, and Nellie, '21, had left their seats for the restroom, located on the front end of the car.
"Their mangled bodies were found lying about twelve feet from the track and about six feet apart and parallel. The metal wash basin lay between them and a splintered fragment lay across Nellie's knees," The Cedar Vale Messenger said. "They were both in a death stupor and at 6:10 Dollie died in the arms of her brother and Mrs. Barrus. Nellie was taken to the hospital where she died about 1 o'clock p.m. Both recognized the brothers and sisters but were "Semi-delirious and never really knew what befell them. Neal and Lillian Sullivan, aged 13 and 9 respectively were lying on the seats asleep and escaped injury except for the breathing of the deadly vapors.
"Harvey Sullivan was thrown across the back of the seat and sustained serious bruises and later in forcing the door cut his hands severely. Susie Sullivan, aged 16, was thrown head long into the aisle and before she could struggle to her feet was trampled upon by the struggling mass. Her body was badly bruised but probably not seriously."
What happened is that a freight train collided head on at full-speed with the Kansas passenger train.
The force of the crash caused the passenger train's cars to telescope onto each other.
The front car immediately filled with scalding steam and hot water.
Two days after the wreck, a special jury determined that the cause of the wreck was a sleeping crew on the freight train. The crew was charged with criminal negligence of being asleep while on duty. Also, two of the freight train's brakemen were arrested in Jefferson City and charged with stealing money from the dead at the scene of the wreck.
Hilda Sullivan Lowe lives now in Derby. Her aunts were Nellie and Dollie Sullivan; her father was Neal Sullivan. "My grandparents had sent their six children to the St Louis World's Fair," Lowe said "It was supposed to be a happy outing until the wreck.
My grandfather lived until I was 19, and he would talk about getting the telegram with the news. I know that it was a sadness in his life."
Another aunt involved in the train wreck, Susie Sullivan, recovered from her injuries and was visited a few years after the wreck by one of her rescuers, F. N. Cunningham of Mannington, W.Va. Cunningham, whose face and hands were lacerated and scalded in the wreck, ended up falling in love with Miss Sullivan and married her.
Kansans who died in the train wreck of 1904
Source: Oct. 11, 1904, issue of The Wichita Dally Eagle