HUSAR: Naperville train crash leaves haunting memories for Quincyan who lost her mother

Posted: Feb. 13, 2014 5:53 pm Updated: May. 8, 2014 9:15 pm

A recent story in The Herald-Whig about a 1946 train crash that killed 45 people, including a dozen from the Quincy area, struck a nerve with many readers.

None more so than Mary Lou Morrow of Quincy.

Morrow's mother, Mary Langen, was one of seven Quincyans killed in the Naperville crash.

The horrific accident -- one of the worst railroad disasters in U.S. history -- took place April 25, 1946. It involved two westbound trains on the same tracks soon after they departed Chicago's Union Station.

The front train, the Advance Flyer, stopped unexpectedly with mechanical problems. The oncoming Exhibition Flyer, which had been going nearly 80 mph, couldn't stop in time and plowed into the rear of the front train.

Morrow's mother, 49, was a passenger in the last car of the Advance Flyer, which was pulverized.

Morrow was 11 at the time. She and her parents and 19-year-old brother had driven to Chicago the weekend before the crash to visit friends. Morrow's mother decided to stay a few more days to see her brother, who had been ill.

"So the three of us came back to Quincy in the car, and she was going to take the train back," Morrow recalled.

That's when fate intervened.

The crash occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on a Thursday. Word of the disaster reached Quincy that afternoon.

Morrow, who lived in the 2500 block of Chestnut, remembers walking home from Dewey School with a girlfriend from the other side of Chestnut.

"When we got to a point where she was going to cross to go to her house, her mother came out in the yard and hollered. She said, ‘Mary Lou, your brother called. You're supposed to come here and stay for a little bit.'"

This wasn't unusual. Morrow and her girlfriend often stopped at each other's home after school. But on this day, her friend's mother was acting strange.

"I started getting this feeling in my stomach that something was wrong," Morrow said.

"It was getting close to supper time, and my friend's mother was getting ready to put supper on the table and she said, ‘Why don't you just stay here?' And just like that I said: ‘No. I want to go home, and I want to go home now.'

"So she got on the phone and called my brother at my house. My brother walked up and met me. He told me on the way home so my dad didn't have to be the one to tell me."

Morrow ran into her house and embraced her father, C.S. "Dutch" Langen, a longtime Moorman Manufacturing employee. He was grief-stricken and surrounded by friends and co-workers.

"He was distraught," Morrow said. "It's all kind of a blur to me, but I remember that."

Morrow was devastated by the sudden loss of her mother.

"Strangely enough, my best recollection of it was the day of the funeral," she said.

"I walked into the funeral home, and my whole class was there with my teacher and several other teachers. I just remember seeing them and thinking how nice it was of them to come."

Morrow, now in her late 70s, said she doesn't have much recollection of her childhood years.

"I just put it out of my mind," she said. "I never did forget the accident, but I think it was a defense mechanism -- that I just blocked it out of my mind so I didn't have to be so sad all the time."

The city of Naperville on April 26 will dedicate a memorial to the crash victims and the volunteers who aided them. Mary Langen's name will be among the 45 victims listed on a plaque.

"I think it's wonderful they're going to do that," Morrow said.

She's not planning to attend the ceremony. "I don't travel as well as I used to," she said.

But she knows where her heart will be that day.


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