75 Years Later: Remembering the 1946 Train Crash in Naperville

“A lot of people don’t realize that the accident actually happened in 1946, many people had no idea,” said Paul Hinterlong.

1946 Train Crash

It was a major train wreck that shook Naperville’s small town of 5,000 people. But it also tells a story of community working together.

On April 25, 1946 two trains crashed into each other on Loomis Street. The Advance Flyer made an unscheduled stop because a crew member saw something shoot out from under the train.

Though signals were triggered, there wasn’t enough time for the Exposition Flyer, running two or three minutes behind the first train, to stop.

The result of the crash caused 45 deaths with many injured. 10 service members returning home from World War II were a part of the casualties.

75 Years Later

75 years later, there are some who remember the event or have family members who were there.

“It was a mess. The back car was laid open like a tin can, the diesel was halfway through it,” said Ron Keller who was six years old at the time of the crash. “My dad and Kroehler, almost all the workers, worked and helped. Naperville was small we had no hospital, we had no emergency assist like we have today.”

“My aunt, Calista Wehrli, who was one of dad’s 12 brothers and sisters,” said Naperville resident Mary Lou Wehrli. “She was home on leave, she was a marine and she happened to be home. And she came down and helped manage the disaster.”

None of the passengers were from Naperville, but the whole community did their part – whether that was rescuing the injured or making sure people were fed.

“Everyone jumped in and got the rescue mission done and worked together and really brought the community together to work as one,” said Hinterlong.

“Tragedy to Triumph”

In 2014, the Naperville Century Walk unveiled a sculpture, “Tragedy to Triumph,” to serve as a reminder of that day.

“A sailor to represent the sailors that were on the train, a Kroehler worker to represent the factory workers that helped out, and then a victim and they’re helping lead one of the crash victims away from the crash,” said artist of the memorial Paul Kuhn.

Kuhn and members who were on the committee to build the memorial gathered today, which marks the 75th anniversary of the crash.

The artist shared a fact many don’t know. Keller’s father had picked up a windshield wiper from the crash and Keller kept it all these years.

“Right when I was working on the Kroehler worker of the memorial and had the chest open, it wasn’t filled in yet. He came in with this windshield wiper and was like ‘can you use it?’” said Kuhn. “And he told me the story of how his dad was a Kroehler worker, it makes perfect sense. I’m going to put it inside the Kroehler worker’s chest where his heart would be.”

The group hopes to bring together family members of the crash victims for a bigger remembrance on the 80th anniversary.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.

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