On Monday November 22, 1915, the Con T. Kennedy Circus Carnival having completed a successful engagement during ‘Harvest Festival’ week at the Atlanta Exposition in Columbus departed the area on a traveling circus train with 28 cars. A Central of Georgia passenger train headed to Macon was also departing Columbus, and instructions were sent to the engineer to wait at Muscogee Junction.
Failure to comply with this order resulted in both trains colliding head-on at 30 miles an hour near a bend at Bull Creek, six and a half miles east of Columbus. The engines of both trains were demolished but did not derail. Other cars telescoped resulting in a catastrophic fire. Although passengers on the Central of Georgia were unharmed, a total of 24 people died on the train carrying the circus crew.
Fred S. Kempf and his wife Blanche who operated a sideshow miniature mechanical city called Kempf’s Model City were trapped inside their sleeping compartment. They managed to pass their young daughter through a window to friends who were working to extricate them. Tragically the unfortunate parents burned to death, and four year old Hazel was left an orphan. “I saw those poor fellows pinned in their sleeping wagons and they could not get out,” reported many at the site.
In addition to the loss of human life, two carloads of animals were burned alive.
A funeral cortege travelled from the First Baptist Church to Riverdale Cemetery where the dead were interred. A memorial headstone in the form of a circus tent was erected by the circus community to commemorate the event.
Erected by the / Con T. Kennedy Shows / In memory of their comrades / Who lost their lives / In a railroad wreck near Columbus GA / Nov 22 1915.
We’ll not forget thee, we who stay / To work a little longer here, / Thy name, thy faith, thy love shall be / On memory’s tablet, bright and clear, / And when o’er-wearied by the toil of life, / Our heavy limbs shall be, / We’ll come, and one by one lie down / Upon dear Mother-earth with thee.