Illinois Central Train Derailment 50 Years Ago: One Survivor Shares Her Story

CHICAGO — Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the bloodiest disaster in Chicago history.

On October 30, 1972, 45 people died in a train accident in Illinois.

Louise Lavar was among the more than 300 wounded. At that time she was going to work.

“I boarded the train with my book. I read The Two Towers, she said.

Lovar was sitting on the balcony of the last car of train No. 416. The train crossed the platform at the 27th Street station near the old Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. The train stopped and began to reverse around the bend. This is the last thing Lavar remembers. She woke up in the intensive care unit. She doesn’t know who pulled her out or how, but she contacted the other survivors. Some said they were trapped among the corpses in the rubble for several hours.

The crash led to industry reforms, but Lovar says the lives lost should not be forgotten.

“It’s always been an important thing to remember, and as a family we’ve always called it ‘I’m glad I’m not dead,'” she said. “But not everyone was able to continue to have it, so I can’t take my survival for granted.”

The City of Chicago declares October 30th an official day of remembrance. And Lavari wants a permanent memorial built in memory of the victims

“In collective recognition, (the city) must remember the citizens lost and the lessons learned,” she said. “We cannot forget. We must continue to remember.”

Fifty years later, Lavarie and her husband now live in Ohio, where she passionately fights for social justice. They have five children and several grandchildren. And she says she’s spent her whole life turning questions about why she survived into “What can I do?”

“My life has to mean something, so I think it does,” she said.

The names of the victims will be read during a memorial service Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park.

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