The Barnum and Bailey Circus Trainwreck at Clark’s Crossing

My 2nd Great Uncle Silas S. Clark owner of Clark's Farm where the train wrecked.

My 2nd Great Uncle Silas S. Clark (top) owner of Clark’s Farm where the train wrecked and his wife Louise Willes Clark (bottom)

Louise Willes Clark

This story takes place in St. Lawrence County, New York, at Clark’s Crossing, between Norwood and Potsdam~~where the railroad went through.

My 3rd Great Aunt and Uncle, Silas S and Louise Willes Clark, owned a farm that passed down by Louise’s ancestors. The land came to her by her father, Wilder Willes. Wilder received the farm from his older brother Bela, who first busted sod there. Bela came with some families from Vermont to live on a commune called The Union or other times called Unionville.

Bela was a Methodist minister and a schoolteacher. He organized a school and taught during the week after The Union experiment disbanded. On Sundays, Bela would turn the school into a church and preach.

Silas had a beautiful and productive farm that he managed well. He was a breeder of fine stock, and prize-winning crops. The newspaper reported their home was a nice place to visit.

In 1899, the Barnum and Bailey circus came to town (Potsdam) via the railroad. In the middle of the night, the train derailed and crashed, which killed many of the circus animals. Exotic animals that escaped the wreckage were roaming the countryside. Silas and a group of men went to round the animals up. Silas, along with his neighbor John Dwyer, whose ancestors were also part of The Union, let the animals stay in their barns, until the circus decided what to do about the situation.

There were no personal injuries, only the animals suffered. Camels and Arabian Stallions were dead or were ‘put down’ from their injuries.

Here is a newspaper excerpt I found about the accident:

Silas Clark is the proprietor of the farm on which the smashup occurred. He and his wife have done a big hotel business today. They could not feed one tenth of those applied for dinners. Mrs. Clark was watching the train when the smashup occurred. She could only see the lights of the moving train, the night was so dark. There are about eighty head of livestock in Silas Clark’s barn and in many more barns of John Dwyer. (Newspaper article from St. Lawrence County, New York, 1899.)

Silas and the men buried the animals in the Union cemetery. The Union established the cemetery for its members and was still in use after the commune disbanded.

I found this all interesting! I am sure there is more to the train crash story, but this is what I could comprehend by reading all the newspaper accounts and history from the county history books.


About hoosierbeth

I have been researching my ancestors, your ancestors and everybody else's since 1981.
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