The silence of the hot June summer afternoon was broken by the sound of a train whistle. This was not unusual for that part of the city and hardly anyone seemed to take notice. It was 1884 and the train was a usual method of transportation. The whistle blew again and then again. People must have noticed the multiple blasts and the ringing of the fire bell. Some of the men even mentioned the whistle and the bell later, after the horrible tragedy happened.
The train, of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Line came rolling toward town near Kishwaukee Road. The engineer, Mr. Tilden stated later that he saw the wagon. He felt sure that the driver of the wagon would stop. He blew the whistle and had the fireman ring the bell. He must have been horrified as the metal monster he was in charge of hurtled straight for the wagon and the man driving the team.
They met with a tremendous, terrible crash. The cow catcher caught the wagon where the horses and wagon were attached, ripping them apart. The wagon was “capsized” and tumbled and smashed, pieces of wood and meat from the wagon’s cargo scattered in a line between the train and the wreckage that was once the wagon. There was a brief awful moment of silence; everyone was too stunned to move or to speak.
Some of the passengers from the train broke the silence by jumping from the train, eager to help. They ran forward; some of them towards the horses and some toward the wagon. The horses had been carried along for quite a distance, and were all dead. Others passengers, including Supervisor William Knapp of Burritt, rushed to the driver. Lifting debris from the wagon, they gently moved the driver into a car on the train and rushed toward the depot.
The young man’s wounds were truly terrifying. The top of his head was horribly cut and his brains were exposed with small pieces of his skull driven into his brain. His right leg was broken above the knee, his right thigh and hip joint were both fractured.
Identification of the wagon driver was difficult due to the wounds he received, but he was finally somehow recognized as George Bishop and they moved him as gently as they could toward his father’s house on Bishop’s Hill near the Resort House. Along the way they were met by Dr. Richings. Once home they laid him on a bed and the doctor did what he could to help the injured man. He had to trepan the wound to remove the pieces of skull from the brain. The doctor was not very hopeful of the young man’s survival.
Interviews with the engineer and another witness (a farmer who was in his field working at the time of the accident) established that it was all an unfortunate accident. They all believed that George had been asleep, so deeply asleep that not even the shrill whistle of the train could wake him. Officer Monroe Clark, who worked the downtown beat, stated that he would go to the Schmauss Brothers business where George worked and wake him up every morning at 3:00 A. M.. George had been assigned this new route about seven weeks prior to the accident. George had complained to Officer Clark that he might have to quit the route because he was so tired that he had to struggle to stay awake, especially on the way back into town.
George lingered until 9:30p.m., when he finally succumbed to his horrible injuries, having never regained consciousness. The doctors that attended him felt that it was merciful that George probably never knew what hit him.
Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events