published Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Cleveland's 125-year-old memorial obelisk rededicated

A crowd gathers for the rededication of Cleveland's 125-year-old obelisk memorial to Will Steed, John Hardwick and Will  Marshall, all prominent citizens who lost their lives in a train wreck at Thaxton, Va. on July 2, 1889. The landmark, which has been at its current home at the crossways between Ocoee and Broad streets just over 100 years ago, was recently repaired after the 6,000-pound monument was damaged in a late April car accident.
A crowd gathers for the rededication of Cleveland's 125-year-old obelisk memorial to Will Steed, John Hardwick and Will Marshall, all prominent citizens who lost their lives in a train wreck at Thaxton, Va. on July 2, 1889. The landmark, which has been at its current home at the crossways between Ocoee and Broad streets just over 100 years ago, was recently repaired after the 6,000-pound monument was damaged in a late April car accident.
Photo by Paul Leach.

FAST FACTS

• The landmark weighs more than 6,600 pounds. The shaft alone weighs around 3,000 pounds and the memorial stone weighs 2,900 pounds.

• A brief attempt was made to relocate the obelisk to Fort Hill Cemetery around 1911, shortly after the erection of the Confederate soldier monument near its original location. This resulted in a lawsuit between the families of the deceased.

• The obelisk and the Confederate soldier memorial have shared the intersection since 1913.

Sources: MainStreet Cleveland and Debbie Moore

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — It was going to be "a trip of a lifetime," but it ended in tragedy.

Three prominent young men from Cleveland, Tenn., left town on the train July 1, 1889, with plans to travel to New York City and the Holy Land. A highlight of their journey was to be the World Expo in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower was being unveiled.

Instead, their trip -- and their lives -- ended in a night of fire and storms in Thaxton, Va.

On Wednesday, more than 40 local officials and residents gathered at the space between Ocoee and Broad streets to rededicate a 125-year-old obelisk memorializing the dead: Will Steed, Will Marshall and John Hardwick.

"They were taking a trip of a lifetime," Cleveland historian Debbie Moore said.

"The trip was anything but smooth," she said. "There had been heavy rains for several days and the train was running late. Shortly before the train arrived at the station in Thaxton, the unimaginable happened."

A culvert gave way and water washed away the tracks, dumping the engine and several cars into a gully.

"The darkness of the night was filled with the sounds of metal crashing against metal, calls for help, the hissing of the steam escaping from the engine and then a huge explosion," she said.

A lightning strike then set the wreckage caught fire, taking the lives of 18 people and injuring several others, she said.

Steed's body was recovered and was met by 1,000 Clevelanders when it arrived on July 3, 1889, said Moore. He was buried the next day in City Cemetery, which is now called Fort Hill Cemetery, she said.

The bodies of his friends were never found, Moore said.

Fundraising for a monument began immediately, she said. The obelisk was dedicated in November 1889, four months after the accident.

It stood through the years until late April, when it was hit and knocked over by an automobile. The driver's insurance carrier paid for the estimated $5,000 in preservation costs, said Assistant City Manager Melinda Carroll.

The rededication marked the repair of the historic landmark and its return to its home.

The potential loss of the monument has given the community a chance to review its history, said Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.

"You've got to remember we pass by that statue every day, [but] we're really not familiar with what it meant and why it was put there," said Rowland.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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