The Com.It.Es. Detroit, a non-profit Italian organization representing Italians living abroad, under the Auspices of the Consulate of Italy in Detroit is hosting the 122nd anniversary of the Adrian Train Wreck on October 1.
In 1901, 135,996 Italians arrived in the United States to start a new life full of hope. It was Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, 1901. Two trains, number 4 and number 13, collided head on at 6:46 pm between Seneca and Sand Creek, Michigan, in what became known as the “Wreck of the Wabash,” after a book by local historian Laurie (Dickens) Perkins. Train number 4 was heading east to Detroit and carrying passengers returning home for a family gathering. The second train, number 13, was traveling west.
It was the worst train accident in Lenawee County and one of the worst in the U. S. About 75 – 100 Italian immigrants traveling from New York to Detroit, on their way to Trinidad, Colorado and elsewhere to work in the mines, were killed and burned beyond recognition. Even though the people from Seneca and Sand Creek came quickly to try and save anyone they could, the fire repelled them and most of the immigrants were trapped inside the burning cars and died.
Dr. Kyle Griffith, Asst. Superintendent of the Lenawee School District and a history teacher, inspired his students to investigate this tragedy. The remains were buried in five coffins and the burial site was unmarked and unknown, but it was known that the remains were somewhere in the local cemetery of Oakwood in Adrian, which ironically opened in the same year, 1901.
In the fall of 2015, Dr. Griffith contacted the Mayor of Adrian, Jim Berryman. He asked if there was a way something special could be done in the name of the local community to honor the victims and their burial site. They could give recognition to the victims, give them a special burial, and maybe have a monument, albeit 115 years later. To his credit, the Mayor took the lead. He formed a committee: Sergio De Giusti, (renowned Italian American artist, was commissioned to create a sculpture that would be dedicated to the victims), Dr. Griffith, the Consul of Italy – Detroit, Maria Luisa Lapresa and Adrian City Commissioner, Lad Strayer.
Mayor Berryman went to Dennis Viscelius, Superintendent of the Cemetery, and Assistant Superintendent of the cemetery, Charlene Goven, for help. They went through fragile cemetery records more than a century old. Ms. Goven came across one record indicating that there were five unmarked coffins, all buried on November 29, 1901, in row 5, graves #4, #5, #6, and #7, and #8 in the northeast part of the cemetery. Until the winter of 2015, no one knew where the unmarked graves were. Reviewing multiple sources, they confirmed that they had located the burial site.
To commemorate the 122nd anniversary of this tragedy, Com.It.Es – Detroit is hosting a memorial trip to Adrian. Those wishing to drive separately may do so. There will be a graveside memorial service upon arrival in Adrian, presided by Father Enzo Addari and followed by a buffet lunch at Adrian College. Dr. Perkins will board the coach after lunch and travel to the site of the wreck and will provide some extraordinary commentary.
Sunday, October 1, 2023
Bus leaves from Italian American Cultural Center in Clinton Twp 9am. A stop will be made at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn to pick up/ drop off west side guests. $35.00 per person includes bus trip. Lunch cost $20.00 Cash or check only Return to IACS approx 6pm. Pls call 586/991-0193 and leave a msg w/ name, tel # and number of people. We will return your call.