Cemetery foundation seeks info on 1915 circus train wreck

To this day, it is still not sure how many people died.

It was Nov. 22, 1915, when the Con T. Kennedy Shows circus train collided with a Central of Georgia passenger train. Six people were pronounced dead and at least a dozen more were reported missing. Many others were injured.

The show was headed to Phenix City and the crash occurred near Bull Creek, a little more than six miles east of Columbus.

Some of those who died are buried in Riverdale Cemetery on Victory Drive.

Several months following the crash, circus owner Con T. Kennedy honored the dead by placing a large monument in the shape of a circus tent at Riverdale. The structure made of Georgia marble is still an attraction to cemetery visitors.

On Oct. 24, the Riverdale-Porterdale Cemetery Foundation is planning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the wreck with a special wreath laying. There will be entertainment and a lunch.

Margaret Zollo and Hal Averett, who are members of the foundation, said while much information has been found about the events of the day, more is being sought.

Perhaps, there is someone locally who has done research on the crash. There might be someone with a relative who was alive at the time and passed down stories or mementoes. Maybe, someone has some photos from that day up in an attic.

"We're trying to find anything that will make the day more memorable," Zollo said.

Those with information is encouraged to call 706-653-4579 or email the foundation at margz140@gmail.com.

One reason for the ceremony is to get people interested in visiting the cemetery.

"Much of the history of the city is in the Riverdale and Porterdale cemeteries," Zollo said. "Some of our most historical figures. You can walk around the cemetery and learn a lot. We see people interested in genealogy stop by."

A tour of Riverdale will take place the day of the event.

The wording on the side of the circus monument reads "Erected by the Con T. Kennedy Shows In Memory of their Comrades Who Lost Their Lives in a Railroad Wreck Near Columbus, Ga. No. 22, 1915."

Averett said when he was a child, his parents would come to the cemetery to put flowers on graves.

"They would always take me to the circus monument," he said. "That was a treat for me."

Though the anniversary is Nov. 22, the October date was scheduled to avoid conflict with the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and also because it is a Saturday when neither Georgia nor Auburn has a home football game.

"We know football is king," Averett said. "It has top priority over everything."

While the city is responsible for administering the cemeteries and providing basic maintenance, the foundation works to enhance the cemetery through special beautification projects.

Zollo and Averett said the foundation is also working with the city to provide better access to burial records and other information about those buried in the cemetery.