Naperville dedicates memorial to 1946 crash victims, rescuers
April 26, 2014 — Source: Daily Herald — Author: Daniel White
On Saturday, 68 years and a day after an horrific train crash claimed 45 lives, Naperville dedicated "Tragedy to Triumph," a memorial to the victims by Naperville artist Paul Kuhn.
The Naperville Century Walk Corp. unveiled the sculpture -- the 45th piece of public art since 1996 -- at the site of the 1946 train crash at the Loomis Street crossing.
In addition to the 45 victims, 125 people were injured when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad's Exposition Flyer slammed into the back of the Advance Flyer, which was performing an unscheduled maintenance stop.
Paul McClelland of South Barrington held a photo of his grandmother, Emma Scheutz, who was killed in the tragedy because she was placed in the last car.
"Unfortunately the people who wanted to go south were put on the last car of the first train because they were going to transfer trains in Burlington, Iowa. My grandma was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said McClelland.
With his brother Ken at his side, Jack Ralston closed the sculpture dedication talking about his father John Ralston, who was killed at 45 and left behind eight children ranging in ages from two to 16.
"The real heroine was our mom … Right now there are 74 descendants of my father, " Ralston said.
Kuhn unveiled the 2,400-pound sculpture with his father, Tom Kuhn.
"There's 5000 spikes and over 10 miles of welding wire in this sculpture," Paul Kuhn said.
Made of melted-down railroad spikes and discarded train parts, the life-size work lists on a plaque the names of the people killed shortly after 1 p.m. on April 25, 1946. The Exposition Flyer, bound for California from Chicago, merged onto the same track used by the Advance Flyer, heading to Iowa and Nebraska from Chicago.
Kuhn's sculpture depicts an employee of Kroehler furniture company, and a sailor, who had been a passenger, assisting an injured woman. Kroehler, the major business in Naperville at the time, had its factory by the train tracks.
The memorial represents the culmination of efforts by Brand Bobosky, chairman of Century Walk Corp., a public art nonprofit agency, and Naperville native Chuck Spinner, author of "The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing," to ensure that the disaster's victims would not be forgotten.
After Spinner's book was published in 2012, he and Bobosky formed a committee and raised money to commission a work from Kuhn, a railroad salvage company employee, who used those contacts to gather discarded materials which he melted down and molded into the sculpture's three figures.
Kuhn focused on the rescue efforts in order to send a message of hope and to remind future generations of their responsibility to continue the legacy of caring and assistance those rescuers demonstrated.
Along with Kroehler factory employees, students from North Central College and parishioners from St. Peter and Paul Church rushed to aid the injured, Bobosky said.
Mayor George Pradel unveiled the memorial plaque next to the sculpture.
"I'm so glad we had this memorial here, not because we want to remember the accident as much as we want to remember what Naperville did and all those wonderful people that reached out to others," said Pradel. "This is a very caring community."