The Monon, Indiana Wreck
I wrote this story in 1978 for publication in the book that celebrated the 100 th anniversary of the town of Monon . I have re-typed it verbatim but added the pictures for your benefit. The best thing I can say is it was the same material as the building that houses the Civic Theater in Lafayette but I believe the building in Monon was larger. (Photo: Monon Indiana Depot, 1922.)
One of the events that stands out in the history of the town of Monon was the Monon railroad wreck of 1951. My brother, Mahlon Eberhard, was one of those injured in the wreck. He had just turned 16 years old a few months earlier and the day after his birthday he started to work for the railroad. When school started in September, he was given special permission from school authorities to leave school early so he could go to work at the depot starting at 3:00 pm.
On September 17, it started out like any other day. There are those that say Number 5 made a lot of noise when it came to town that afternoon and there are those who say it did not. I was in school and did not notice anything unusual. I was a freshman in high school and as I left the school grounds with my friend Jane Botts, her boy friend drove by and hurried us into the car. I can still remember his words – " Sharon, your brother almost got killed." As we came through town, I remember the highway crossing was still blocked with the train cars – only the 4 engines had jumped the track. We parked about 2 blocks away and ran to the wreck. Mahlon was one of the first to get out and had already been sent to the nearest hospital – 30 miles away at Lafayette. However, I did see them remove the body of Hub Dickerson, the engineer who died in the wreck.
My father, Bill Eberhard, had also been at the depot when the wreck happened. He was a clerk and had been standing beside Mahlon at the baggage room door watching Number 5 come around the curve at the highway. He saw the engine jump the track and called to Mahlon to run. The problem was that Mahlon turned to run through the baggage room and Dad ran down the tracks to the south. Dad out-ran the train and was not hurt. Mahlon did not make it through the baggage room. He was buried in the limestone rubble that remained after the 4 units of the engine hit the old building.
Mahlon stayed a patient at St Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette from September 1951 until July 1952. His foot was crushed – the doctors tried unsuccessfully to save his foot. I remember that we were able to bring him home for a few days at Christmas. His foot was in a cast and he had to stay in a hospital bed that we put up in the living room but anyway he was home for a while. Eventually, the doctor decided that they could not save his foot so Mahlon's foot was amputated. He fully recovered. He returned to high school in September 1953 in my junior year and we graduated together.
After graduation, Mahlon returned to work for the Monon Railroad and continued working for the railroad until he retired. He married Norma Jean Wittenauer whom he met while he was a patient at St Elizabeth. (She was a student nurse there at that time.) They have 5 children and live in Lafayette.
Back to 2004:
The significant thing is the date of the accident, 9/17/51, which was also my parent's 17 th wedding anniversary. Also, I remember being personally upset the night of the wreck because Mom and Christine had been involved in an automobile wreck the week before. It was before the days of car seats. Christine (3 yrs old at the time) was thrown against the dash and split her lip. No one else was hurt. I knew I was the next now that Mom and Chris and Dad and Mahlon had been involved in wrecks. Naturally, I was wrong. Nothing happened to me.
The pictures below were taken at the dedication of the new depot in the summer of 1952 – about 8-10 months after the wreck. In the picture on the left, notice the man standing in the lower right hand corner with his back to the camera. Does he look familiar?
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