Circus Train Wreck Victims Memorial – Columbus, Georgia - Atlas Obscura

Circus Train Wreck Victims Memorial

Riverdale Cemetery

Shaped like a big top tent, this memorial honors the victims of a terrible train wreck. 


Located in Riverdale Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia, this big-top shaped granite monument marks the graves of victims of an infamous 1915 Circus Train disaster.

The Con T. Kennedy Carnival Show had just wrapped up an unusually successful Harvest Festival week in the center of Atlanta. On the early morning of November 22nd, 1915, the 28-car Kennedy show train pulled out of the station, headed for the next gig in Phenix City, Alabama. The entire Kennedy company was on board.

Only a few hours later, some of them would be dead. At 1:26 in the afternoon, just outside of Columbus on tracks that ran parallel to Macon Road, the show train collided with a steel passenger train. Both were traveling at around 30 miles per hour. The crash was so powerful that the two engines fused together. While no one was killed on the sturdier passenger train, the Kennedy performers were not so lucky. As owner Con Kennedy led the way, workers in the back cars attempted to save those trapped in the front. “I saw those poor fellows pinned in their sleeping wagons and they could not get out,” one eyewitness recalled. As a fire began raging out of control, carnival performers Fred and Myrtle Kempf realized they were trapped in their sleeping compartment. In a last-ditch effort to save their daughter, Myrtle passed her off to rescue workers. The child survived, but her parents and two carloads of animals were burned alive.

The fire raged for hours. When the smoke had finally cleared, more bodies were discovered in the wreckage. At least 50 Kennedy workers were injured. Due to the transient nature of show people, the exact number of those killed has never been determined. After a mass funeral at Columbus’s First Baptist Church, there was a procession to Riverdale Cemetery where the burials took place. Since the carnival band’s instruments had been burned, local Columbusites loaned them instruments so they could send their comrades off in style.

It was determined that the crash was the fault of the passenger train’s conductor, who had ignored orders to stop and wait for the show train. In honor of his fallen employees, Con Kennedy erected this big top monument, and then he and the rest of his crew headed back down the long, hard, show business road:

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.

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