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HOME > Biographical > A Book About Myself > CHAPTER XXVII
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 It was not long before the -train arrived, a thing of flat cars, box-cars and cabooses of an old pattern, with hospital cots made ready en route, and a number of doctors and nurses who out with the air and authority of those used to scenes of this kind. Meanwhile I had been wondering how long it would be before the wreck-train would arrive and had set about getting my information before the doctors and authorities were on the scene, when it might not be so easy. I knew that names of the injured and their condition were most important, and I ran from one to another of the groups that had formed here and there over one dying or dead, asking them who it was, where he lived, what his occupation was (, there were no women), and how he came to be at the scene of the wreck. Some, I found, were passengers, some residents of the nearby village of Wann or Alton who had hurried over to see the wreck. Most of the passengers had gone on a train provided for them.  
I had a hard enough time getting information, even from those who were able to talk. Citizens from the nearby town and those who had not been injured were too much frightened by the or were lending a hand to do what they could ... they were not interested in a reporter or his needs. A group carrying the injured to the platform resented my intrusion, and others searching the meadows for those who had run far away until they fell were too busy to bother with me. Still I pressed on. I went from one to another asking who they were, receiving in some cases replies, in others merely . With those laid out on the platform awaiting the arrival of the wreck-train I did not have so much trouble: they were helpless and there were none to attend them.
“Oh, can’t you let me alone!” exclaimed one man whose face was a black crust. “Can’t you see I’m dying?”
“Isn’t there some one who will want to know?” I asked softly. It struck me all at once that this was a duty these people owed to everybody, their families and friends included.
“You’re right,” said the man with cracked lips, after a long silence, and he gave his name and an account of his experiences.
I went to others and to each who was able to understand I put the same question. It won me the toleration of those who were watching me. All except the station agent seemed to see that I was entitled to do this, and he could have been with a if I had thought of it.
As I have said, however, once the wreck-train rolled in surgeons and nurses leaped down, and men brought litters to carry away the wounded. In a moment the scene changed; the authorities of the road turned a frowning face upon and I was only too glad that I had thought to make my early. However, I managed in the excitement to install myself in the train just as it was leaving so as to reach Alton with the injured and dead and witness the transfer. Some died en route, others moaned in a soul-racking way. I was beside myself with pity and excitement, and yet I could think only of the manner in which I would describe, describe, describe, once the time came. Just now I scarcely dared to make notes.
At Alton the scene transferred itself gradually to the Alton General Hospital, where in spite of the protests of railroad officials I demanded as my right that I be allowed to enter and was finally admitted. Once in the hospital I completed my , being new assisted by doctors and nurses, who seemed to like my appearance and to respect my calling, possibly because they saw themselves mentioned in the morning paper. Having interviewed every injured man, obtaining his name and address where possible, I finally went out, and at the door encountered a great of people, men, women and children, who were weeping and clamoring for information. One glance, and I realized for all time what these tragedies of the world really mean to those dependent. The white faces, the liquid appealing eyes, tragedy written in large human characters.
“Do you know whether my John is in there?” cried one woman.
“Your John?” I replied sympathetically. “Will you tell me who your John is?”
“John Taylor. He works on that road. He was over there.”
“Wait a moment,” I said, reaching down in my pocket for my pad and reading the names. “No, he isn’t here.”
The woman heaved a great sigh.
Others now crowded about me. In a moment I was the center of a clamoring throng. All wanted to know, each before the other.
“Wait a moment,” I said, as an inspiration seized me. I raised my hand, and a silence fell over the little group.
“You people want to know who is injured,” I called. “I have a list here which I made over at the wreck and here. It is almost complete. If you will be quiet I will read it.”
A fell over the crowd. I stepped to one side, where there was a broad balustrade, mounted it and held up my paper.
“Edward Reeves,” I began, “224 South Elm Street, Alton. Arms, legs and face seriously burned. He may die.”
“Oh!” came a cry from a woman in the crowd.
I to not say whether any one was seriously injured.
“Charles Wingate, 415 North Tenth Street, St. Louis.”
No voice answered this.
“Richard Shortwood, 193 Thomas Street, Alton.”
No answer.
I read on down the list of forty or more, and at each name there was a stir and in some instances cries. As I stepped down two or three people drew near and thanked me. A flush of gratification swept over me. For once I felt that I had done something of which I could honestly be proud.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in outside details. I hunted up the local paper, which was getting out an extra, and got permission to read its earlier account. I went to the to see how the trains ran, and by accident ran into Wood. In spite of my inability to send a telegram the city editor had seen fit to take my advice and send him. He was intensely up over how to it all, and I am satisfied that my description of what had occurred did not ease him much. I accompanied him back to the hospital to see if there was anything there he wished to illustrate, and then described to him the horror as I saw it. Together we visited the morgue of the hospital, where already fourteen naked bodies had been laid out in a row, bodies from which the flames had eaten great patches of skin, and I saw that there was nothing now by which they could be identified. Who were they? I asked myself. What had they been, done? The nothingness of man! They looked so commonplace, so unimportant, so like dead flies or . Curiously enough, the burns which had killed them seemed in some cases pitifully small, little patches cut out of the skin as if by a pair of , revealing the raw muscles beneath. All those dead were naked, men who had been alive and curiously only two or three hours before. For once Dick was hushed; he did not theorize or pretend; he was silent, pale. “It’s hell, I tell you,” was all he said.
On the way back on the train I wrote. In my eagerness to give a full account I impressed the services of Dick, who wrote for me such phases of the thing as he had seen. At the office I reported to Mitchell, giving that solemn salamander a short account of what had occurred. He told me to write it at full length, as much as I pleased. It was about seven in the evening when we reached the office, and at eleven I was still writing and not nearly through. I asked Hartung to look out for some food for me about midnight, and then went on with my work. By that time the whole paper had become aware of the importance of the thing I was doing; I was surrounded and observed at times by gossips and representatives of out-of-town newspapers, who had come here to get of the tale. The telegraph editor came in from time to time to get additional pages of what I was writing in order to answer inquiries, and told me he thought it was fine. The night editor called to ask questions, and the reporters present sat about and eyed me curiously. I was a lion for once. The of my importance set me up. I wrote with , vanity, a fine .
By one o’clock I was through. Then after it was all over the other reporters and newspaper men gathered about me—Hazard, Bellairs, Benson, Hartung, David the railroad man, and several others.
“This is going to be a great beat for you,” said Hazard generously. “We’ve got the Post licked, all right. They didn’t hear of it until three o’clock this afternoon, but they sent five men out there and two artists. But the best they can have is a cold account. You saw it.”
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