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Woman killed by train
http://www.heinleinsociety.org/thsnexus/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1414
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Author:  VeraLenora [ Tue Mar 12, 2013 9:11 am ]
Post subject:  Woman killed by train

In several of his books Heinlein writes as if a known incident, about a woman out for a walk with her husband whose foot is trapped in a railroad bed, and an unknown man who tries to help. All 3 die, but the two men, even the one who doesn't know her, never stop trying to free her.

Does this have a basis in fact?

Author:  BillMullins [ Tue Mar 12, 2013 1:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

The Kansas City Star from 1880 to 1941 is digitized and searchable online, and I've never been able to locate a newspaper account of the incident.

Author:  JackKelly [ Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

This has been discussed before. Heinlein vividly recalled this incident from his childhood - and I always assumed it happened in Kansas City. I choose to believe it is a real story.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Fri Mar 15, 2013 1:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

I've thrown the query out on a more general forum good at collectively answering questions. No one has come up with anything, and quite a few, writing without RAHawe, note that it is very parable-ic.

I am wondering if it is a story he heard, maybe even a sermon or some such, and either retained it as factual or decided to present it that way.

Author:  PeterScott [ Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

JamesGifford wrote:
I've thrown the query out on a more general forum good at collectively answering questions.


Which I found as the top hit as soon as I started Googling again.

Am wondering now whether it might have happened elsewhere and RAH changed the venue to make it more appealing to position it as being within his personal sphere.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Sat Mar 16, 2013 6:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

PeterScott wrote:
Am wondering now whether it might have happened elsewhere and RAH changed the venue to make it more appealing to position it as being within his personal sphere.

Given that a search of the KC paper turned up nothing - which is not conclusive - I would place my earnest money on it being a church or public sermon that he appropriated or misremembered. Then again, it could be a much less "tidy" incident that has been polished, in his signature way, into this tight little parable.

Author:  BillMullins [ Sun Mar 17, 2013 8:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

I have believed for a long time that the story is not literally true; that it was a tale told by RAH because of the message it carried rather than as a recounting of actual events. But tonight I found this:

Kansas City Star 9/3/1919 p 1

Quote:
WHICH A FATHER’S DUTY?
------------------------------
SHOULD TANNER HAVE LIVED FOR CHILDREN OR DIED WITH WIFE?
------------------------------
Chicago Debates the Question While Paying Tribute to the Heroism of Husband at Grade Crossing
-------------------------------

CHICAGO, Sept. 3. -- Hubbard Woods has its epic today. Behind the quiet easy running life of the North Shore suburbs there’s a feeling of awe, as if something holy had passed through the streets.

Monday night Mr. and Mrs. William Tanner started for the movies. Crossing the railroad tracks at the station, Mrs. Tanner’s foot slipped into the crevice between the track and the planking. The headlight of the train was shining down the tracks as it rushed from Glencoe. The flagman and the husband worked to free Mrs. Tanner’s foot.

There were three children at home. There was an old mother. There were years of work and health ahead. William Tanner, a cashier in the office of the B. & O. railroad, straightened to his feet and put his arms around his wife. He stood there -- free to step into safety, his back to the oncoming train. Some hysterical persons on the station platform saw it: Tanner and his wife framed in the halo of a locomotive searchlight. John Miller, the flagman at the crossing, jumped. The train sideswiped him. The Tanners were lifted together into the air, smashed against the ground forty feet away and killed.

Persons coming into Chicago paid homage at the scene of their death.

“This is the place,” said the new flagman. Then there was a walk. One woman cried as she looked at it. And then she raised the question that all Chicago discussed yesterday -- whether the husband should have elected to remain with his wife and make the supreme sacrifice as he did or whether he should have saved himself for the safety of his children.

But in the Tanner home the epic wears another air. Three children are playing on the porch with a dog named Rab. A white haired old woman sits in a chair rocking. She is Mrs. W. D. Chatley, Tanner’s mother. Long ago her husband was killed by a railroad train. Tanner was her only son and now he’s gone.

The children don’t know about Monday night’s tragedy. No arrangements have been made for the future care of the children, one of the women who spent the morning at the house said. All were awaiting the arrival of Mr. Tanner’s sister from New York. She is expected to arrive today.


If I had heard this story as an impressionable youth, if my family had discussed it around the dinner table, I'm sure I'd remember its essential elements today. And if I lived near a park in which people were killed by trains (I found a couple of such events regarding Swope Park in the years immediately before WWI, just not otherwise similar to RAH's story), I could see the tales merging over the years.

So while I still don't think the story happened as Heinlein told it, I don't think he fabricated it out of whole cloth either.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

Excellent find, Bill.

It's likely that there were many rail-related deaths in those days and many may have loosely fitted the story Heinlein later told. One possibility was that we would never find a specific instance even though the gist would have been true.

This one would have been when he was about 12 and would have made an impression. It's possible he heard it second or third hand, with the details (such as about the third figure) blurred.

Author:  PeterScott [ Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

I concur. First-class research.

Author:  tanner505 [ Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

VeraLenora wrote:
In several of his books Heinlein writes as if a known incident, about a woman out for a walk with her husband whose foot is trapped in a railroad bed, and an unknown man who tries to help. All 3 die, but the two men, even the one who doesn't know her, never stop trying to free her.

Does this have a basis in fact?


This is fact, my family history. "William Fitch Tanner" was my great grandfather. The accident happened in Hubbard Woods. Here is a link to an article about the incident.
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-fr ... 5F4D8185F9

I have uncovered a lot of information about the accident and the aftermath for my grandfather Lyman D Tanner and his 2 siblings.
The accident made national headlines and there were charity fund raisers for the 3 kids.

Side note, My fathers name is also William like his grandfather and my name is Lyman like my grandfather.

Sounds like a great movie, get Ron Howard to direct and I'm interested.

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