| March/April 1966

  • Mr. Russell Shaw
    Courtesy of Mr. Russell Shaw, 1440 Munson St., Flint, Michigan.
    Mr. Russell Shaw

  • Mr. Russell Shaw

Courtesy of Mr. Russell Shaw, 1440 Munson St., Flint, Michigan

I first learned of this tragedy three or four years ago. Last fall, when my wife and I made a trip visiting relatives in Fremont, Mich., we took time out to run down this story and get as many facts as possible. With the help of Mr. Austin Cochrane, I got the newspaper clipping which is a reprint that appeared in the Newaygo Republican about a year ago. With him we visited the church where the funeral was held, also the cemetery where we were able to verify the exact date from the tombstones.

I was unable to learn much from my interview with Mr. Geo. Haight. He and Oscar Evans, were at the rear of the barn, near the spot where the boiler came out. Mr. Evans received a broken leg, plus minor injuries. Mr. Haight was badly hurt and lay unconscious for a time. What he knows is only what he learned from others later. Geo. later married his brothers (Charles) widow and has lived on his place ever since. Over the years Geo. has found bits of metal when plowing the fields on both sides of the road. One piece of the engine he found not long ago lay in the wood lot behind where Geo. is standing in the snap shot, that would be a distance of some 500 yds.

Those of us old enough to have lived in the days before and during the coming of the gas buggy, remember the steam farm engine with more or less fondness, more if you happen to be one who worked around them. Of course there was much that did not seem so wonderful at the time, the long hours that started before day break, the sweat and dirt, the breakdowns and bog-downs, the headaches -and sometimes heartaches.

This story concerning a tragedy that occurred sixty-five years ago was perhaps the worst boiler explosion that ever happened on a farm anywhere, in numbers killed and injured. The location was an area known as Big Prairie, in western lower Michigan. The in closed newspaper cliping is a copy of the original article that was printed in the Newaygo Republican a few days after the explosion. The snapshot is of the old barn as it looks today, very much the same as it was then, except for the roofing over the old shingles and the lean-to. The man in the picture is Mr. Geo. Haight one of the two men still living who were at the scene when the explosion took place. Mr. Haight was twenty years of age then. The engine stood just left of where Mr. Haight is standing. The house, since replaced, was behind me (taking the picture) across the road from the barn.

Mr. Austin Cochrane now living in Fremont Mich, also twenty years of age at the time, lived a few miles from there. He and his mother were called upon to do the singing at the funeral, held in the open at a neighborhood church for six of the seven victims. Mr. Cochrane states that the funeral procession of horse and buggys was well over a mile long. Today in the nearby cemetery you can read on their tombstones, DIED JULY 31, 1899.


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