Train crash is remembered 67 years later with memorial
Michigan, ND (WDAY TV) -- People are remembering a tragic part of North Dakota history, in the small town of Michigan.
August 9, 1945...A train, loaded to capacity, passes through Michigan, North Dakota. It was forced to stop to fix a mechanical problem. Another train was coming, hidden because of a curve in the tracks. There was no warning -- the 2nd train buckled its breaks and plowed into the first coach, splitting it down the middle and causing the engine's boiler to explode, scalding people.
"My father was a dentist in Lakota at the time. They called him over to identify the bodies by dental records."
Years later, witnesses recall the gruesome sight, etched in their memory forever.
Robert Bye: "This was 67 years ago, but these were real people."
The small town had no facilities for first aid -- help came from Grand Forks and Devils Lake. Warren Snyder, a junior in high school at the time, was one of many who answered the call.
Warren Snyder: "I felt like I was in kind of a trance. He says I need two volunteers right now, and that's how I ended up on top of the car holding this lady in a sling. She was practically cut in half. The minute they released the pressure after all those hours of cutting, she died instantly. She didn't last 10 seconds after they released her... because she was mutilated."
Now, the town is paying tribute to the worst rail disaster in North Dakota history, by dedicating a granite monument. The monument lists the names of the 34 people who perished in the crash, 19 of them soldiers returning from World War II. All of them, with a story.
"Rose Ellen Wilson"
James Wilson traveled from California to honor his 24-year-old cousin, Rose, who was one of three Navy women on the train.
James Wilson: "She had really become a yellowing clipping in the family bible. but to see her nearly seven decades later with her name on a monument is in fact, overwhelming."
Family members say they'll continue to come back and visit the monument.