Sign marks 1942 bus crash

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 30, 2008

CRYSTAL SPRINGS – Concerned citizens, interested passersby andthe few elderly who remember the noise and panic and splatteredblood of a train/bus wreck in downtown Crystal Springs in 1942squeezed into the shade of a single tree beside the railroad tracksat the same site Saturday morning to dedicate a historic markercommemorating the collision.

In the midst of the music, crafts and fellowship of the annualTomato Festival, the group gathered at the edge of the festivitiesand peeled off their sweaty hats in a prayer for the dead of 66years ago.

Even the southbound train that caused a pause in the ceremonyseemed reverent, blasting the crowd with its horn in shrill supportas it barely crept through downtown.

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“This is our way of preserving this moment in history, eventhough it was a tragic moment,” said Copiah County Historical andGenealogical Society Secretary and Treasurer Dan Johnson.

The moment occurred around midday on Aug. 5, 1942, at thecrossing of the north/south railroad tracks and Marion Avenue, whena Greyhound bus was struck by a southbound Illinois Central Specialferrying troop toward the war.

Witnesses at the scene six decades ago described many littlehorrors – the bus being lifted into the air from the force of thecollision and rolling away for 50 yards, a fountain of metal debrisbursting in all directions and all 52 of the Greyhound passengersbeing ejected outward.

The accident resulted in the deaths of 15 people, with 43injured. A mad scramble involving any vehicle that could moveensued, as Crystal Springs residents and soldiers from the trainextracted broken bodies and loaded them for transport to Jacksonhospitals. They came from Crystal Springs, Hazlehurst andBrookhaven and other towns in Mississippi; and from Alabama to NewYork.

“This was a major accident involving people from all over thenation,” Johnson said. “It impacted not just our area, but severalareas in the country.”

Johnson said he is aware of only one woman, who is now 89 yearsold, who remembers direct involvement in the accident. Most of theothers have to pick their memories from all the others gathered inchildhood.

That, Johnson said, is why the historical society has pursuedthe commemoration of the site for more than one year.

“This happened 66 years ago – people who were children thenmaybe still remember, but most of the adults have passed away,”Johnson said. “Most of the younger people have no idea, and we feltlike they needed to know.”

Johnson said tremendous preparation went into securing thehistorical marker. Efforts began in April 2007, he said, andincluded the submission of a “very detailed” package of informationto the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Thedepartment to sign off on the fact that the occasion warranted ahistorical marker, approve of the marker and its text, Johnsonsaid.

One month ago on Tuesday, May 27, as Johnson and the historicalsociety were making final preparations for the dedication of themarker, an Amtrak train plowed into a garbage truck in CrystalSprings and reminded the society why they were following through onthe marker.

“It was kind of eerie,” Johnson said. “Right in the middle ofplanning for this – it gave us a flashback of what this must havebeen like. And just like they did in 1942, the community really gotbehind the people in the train wreck. Our residents came out to thepassengers and brought them food and water and made themcomfortable while Amtrak made arrangements to get them out ofCrystal Springs.”

Apparently, the spirit of 1942 is infused in modern day CrystalSprings.

“We still have a good number of people who remember it,” saidhistorical society president Tricia

Nelson-Easley. “We still have a few senior citizens whowitnessed it; who saw it, heard the crash and helped out. Theystill know. That’s why it was important for us to do it now, whilewe still have those people. So many are gone.”

Nelson-Easley said the marker was also dedicated for those whocome to Crystal Springs to breathe in memory.

“There are a lot of people who research their genealogy now,”she said. “When they come to Crystal Springs to see where therelatives died, and we have nothing here – we felt like we owed itto these people.”