- Title: Tragedy to Triumph
- Artist: Paul Kuhn
- Location: Loomis Street Train Crossing
- Medium: Sculpture
- Creation Date: 2014
- Installation Date: 2014
- Description: “Tragedy to Triumph” is the 45th work of art in the Naperville Century Walk. It was dedicated on April 26, 2014, to honor victims of a crash that shook a sleepy little town of less than 5000 people who came together to triumph in the face of tragedy. Discarded train parts and hundreds of railroad spikes were bent, melted and molded by lifelong Naperville resident Paul Kuhn to sculpt this powerful and inspiring creation memorializing this day in Naperville history. The sailor represents the 10 military personnel who were crash victims, three of whom were on their way home to announce their engagement to be married. The figure on the right is a Kroehler worker who symbolizes the many volunteers who responded to the cries for help. The injured woman being aided by the human crutch is the reminder that many people were injured and 45, ranging in age from 1 to 81, were killed in the crash. Actual train wheels and two plaques bookend the sculpture. Kuhn says that his focus was on showing how a caring community can come together and triumph over tragedy. Kuhn points out that this Memorial does not picture any dead. It pictures only the living. He says that the memorial is intended to reflect a message of hope, rather than despair, of triumph over tragedy. Most of all the memorial speaks to future generations of their responsibility to carry on the legacy of assistance and caring that was so spectacularly evident here on April 25th, 1946. A book entitled” The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing”, written by Naperville native Chuck Spinner provided the impetus to the Century Walk to form a “train wreck committee” to develop plans for this Memorial. This sculpture was funded in part by a grant from the Public Museum Capital Grant Program, the city of Naperville Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund and The Naperville Century Walk.
- History Behind Art: In 1864, the City of Naperville demanded that the Burlington railroad construct its rail line on the northern edge of the city. The city also demanded that viaducts and cow tunnels be built to allow traffic, cattle grazing and herding to continue unobstructed by the rail service. To accommodate this demand, the tracks, just east of Loomis Street, were curved as a northern bypass around the city. In 1939, the Burlington Rail Road established a route from California to Chicago to bring visitors to the 1939 exposition which was commemorating the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge. This route was known as the “exposition run”. On April 25, 1946, at 12:35 PM, the Advance Flyer left Chicago’s union station heading west to Iowa and Omaha Nebraska. Shortly thereafter the Exposition Flyer, bound for California, left Chicago on an adjacent track. After a few miles the Exposition Flyer merged onto the same track traveled by the Advance flyer. At 1:03 PM, the Advance flyer, train number 11, stopped around the curve, just East of the Loomis Street crossing. The Exposition Flyer, rounding the curve at approximately 50 mph was unable to stop and at 1:05 PM telescoped into the back of the Advance Flyer. The impact of the collision propelled mangled steel, train parts, debris and human bodies to the middle of the Loomis Street crossing, approximately one block east of this Memorial. The carnage consisted of 17 women and 28 men. Military personnel returning home from World War II and residents of southern Illinois communities who had spent Easter Sunday visiting relatives in Chicago were among the dead and injured. Curtis Crayton who had been seated in the engine cab of the Exposition Flyer jumped from the train when he realized a collision was inevitable and was that trains only fatality. Neighborhood residents, and Kroehler furniture employees, alerted to the tragedy by the thunderous sound of the impact of the trains, immediately sprang into action and came to assist the injured and dying victims of the crash. Upon learning of the accident, other Napervillians rushed to assist. Kroehler employees dismissed from work built scaffolding to extricate trapped passengers. The factory was used as a temporary morgue. Secretaries sent telegrams for train passengers to concerned family and friends. The cafeteria was used to feed the injured, the hungry, the stranded and the helpers. A Marine visiting his sister on Center Street spent eight hours assisting the most critically injured. Students from North Central College and from the Evangelical Theological Seminary, three Roman Catholic priest, firemen, policemen, local lawyers, postal workers, teachers, merchants and many other Naperville residents from all walks of life volunteered aid and comfort. Homes along Loomis Street were used as makeshift medical centers. One nearby home was used as a communication center Other homes provided shelter to the stranded passengers.