At the time of my research for my book, "The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing," over six decades had passed since the accident and many of the players in the story were deceased or were advanced in age; so it was important for me to stay on task, work long hours, and get to as many of these people as quickly as possible. I also felt committed to this story because our family lived directly across the street from the main entrance of the Kroehler Furniture Factory (now 5th Street Station), just a block from the Loomis Street crossing where the crash occurred. Don't look for our house, it long ago was made into a parking lot.
At the time of the crash I was in my mother's womb. I was born on Oct. 22, 1946 at St. Charles Hospital. Naperville didn't have a hospital at the time, Edwards Hospital was then a Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Most of those injured in the train wreck were also taken to St. Charles Hospital. In fact, the last person to be discharged was twenty-one year old soldier Tom Chaney who was released on Dec. 18, 1946. So, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Tom may have viewed me in the nursery during his trips on crutches around the wards during his therapy. I bet he never would have given a thought that the baby he was looking at would, one day, write the story that he had lived.
After I unveiled my book in the summer of 2012 in Naperville at Anderson's Bookshop, my wife and I continued on for book signings in a number of towns, including Galesburg, Illinois, and Burlington and Keokuk, Iowa where the families of some of the victims of the wreck lived. These families told me that, if Naperville would ever create a memorial, they would travel up for the dedication ceremonies. I know that Naperville will give them a great welcome and be anxious to hear their stories. God willing, I will be in Naperville next April for the dedication and look forward to speaking at different venues telling the story of the tragedy of the wreck as well as relating the triumphs seen in the many rescue efforts.
I am ecstatic over the plans for the sculptures designed for the memorial. The dedication, scheduled for April 26, 2014 is the day after the anniversary of the crash, however the memorial committee wisely chose a Saturday when parking would be available for the those who wish to attend the ceremonies. Also, holding the dedication on a Saturday would allow more of the out of town guests, especially members of the family of the victims, to be present.
Councilman Paul Hinterlong should be commended for forming a wonderful committee to see that this task of erecting a memorial was completed in an efficient and timely fashion and matched the quality of the existing Naperville commemorations. Brand Bobosky, who has guided previous committees that have designed beautiful Naperville sculptures, was a key member of the committee. Jim Christen, a former Burlington employee who has dedicated years to the study of the train crash and helped me immensely with the technical aspects of my book, also was an obvious choice. Bope Schrader's father, as foreman of the yard for Kroehler Furniture, was an eye witness to the tragedy. Ron Keller, conductor for the Naperville Municipal Band, was driven home from school by his father and saw the scattered train cars while crossing the Columbia Street bridge. Mary Lou and Chuck Wehrli's relative, Calista Wehrli, spent long hours assisting people injured in the wreck.
Of course, Mayor Pradel and long time residents Jack Schiffler and Jon Ripsky were able to give input from their long years of experience and service to the city. Hinterlong added very talented members Mike Krol, Ray McGury, Myron Sawyer, and Marty Walker to round out this outstanding committee. And, I felt very honored that the committee added me as a member of the committee even though my New York residency prevented me from physically attending the meetings. I hope that this information has wet your appetite for reading more of this forgotten part of Naperville history. And, I hope to see you at next April's dedication events.