Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Brings Memories of Tragedy 50 Years Ago

Solemn Scene as the dead are identified following the Coliseum Explosion 50 years ago on Thursday
Photo by Joseph B. Young III, Indianapolis Star
Tomorrow, as the city revels in Halloween Night, I hope you'll pause for just a moment and remember one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Indianapolis that happened 50 years ago.

On October 31, 1963, an explosion at the Indiana State Fair Coliseum killed 74 people (some sources say 81) and injured around 400.

Over 4,000 spectators were in the Coliseum to watch Holiday on Ice.  A propane gas leak sparked by the heat from a popcorn popper exploded hurling concrete, debris, and people onto the ice and across the building.  People were crushed.  Some rushing to the scene to help were burned by a fireball that came from the resulting crater.

The pictures are harrowing.  Covered dead bodies lying on the ice at the Coliseum which served as a temporary morgue.  Families were broken.  The city was shaken.

Indy responded as it always does.  News reports tell how the City of Indianapolis came together and supported the victims.  The Coliseum was pieced back together, too, and it stands as a monument today to those that perished.

I've been in that building so many times, but there's not one time that I entered in that old configuration that my eyes didn't wander to the southeast corner of the building.  I always thought about the stories I was told and the pictures I had seen.

When I worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I worked with a tour bus driver named Bob Groover.  Bob, I believe, is still alive today.  He has to be pushing 100.

Bob, when I knew him, was a fun-loving hulk of a man.  He knew ways to cure headaches by massaging your temples, and he always had a joke or two.  Through others, I found out that Bob and his wife, Lois, were there the night of the explosion.  When the explosion happened, Bob, who had survived a wound in World War II by being carried from the field by another soldier, was thrown from his seat.  Bob went to a hospital where he recovered, but his wife was killed.

The loss was personal and tragic for so many.  As you celebrate Halloween with your families, remember those families torn apart by tragedy 50 years ago on Thursday.

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