Woman killed by train
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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

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

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

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

Author:  beamjockey [ Sat Oct 12, 2013 4:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

Author:  JamesGifford [ Sun Oct 13, 2013 9:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

Outstanding. Simply outstanding. Thank you very much for taking the time to find this discussion, join the board and post this information. If you are not familiar with any of Robert Heinlein's uses of this story - which, I would say, is indeed the genesis for his tales - you can follow the discussion above and/or ask about specifics of where to find them.

Author:  beamjockey [ Wed Aug 16, 2017 12:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

I have a newfound interest in the Tanner tragedy of 1 September 1919 at the Hubbard Woods station in Winnetka, Illinois.

In 2013, Bill Mullins found a clipping in the *Kansas City Star* for 3 Sept 1919 about an accident at the Hubbard Woods station in Winnetka, Illinois, and .

Lyman Tanner, user "Tanner505" here, .

Ann Hagedorn of her 2007 book Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919

Googling around, I see there's more. The story got a lot of play, especially in the Chicago Daily Tribune. In multiple cities, people raised money to help the Tanner orphans and the family of the railroad flagman, John Miller, who survived but whose leg was amputated. . More information .

[URL count limit hit. Continued on next rock]

Author:  beamjockey [ Wed Aug 16, 2017 12:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

[Regarding the accident that killed William Fitch Tanner and his wife Mary in 1919:]

On , which pictures the children, we can also see that a Kansas City newspaper was raising funds.

The Kansas City Star . So perhaps the Star carried not just a story about the Winnetka incident, but a month-long campaign urging readers to donate. I wonder whether more coverage could be found in the Star for the weeks following 1 September 1919.

At least twice, Heinlein told the story of the woman trapped in the path of a train, and the men who refused to save themselves-- and later committed his speeches to print. Once was his 1961 Worldcon Guest of Honor speech, reprinted in Requiem, and once was his 1973 address at Annapolis, "The Pragmatics of Patriotism." (Are there others?) In both accounts, he claimed the incident took place in Kansas City's Swope Park, "about fifty years ago" (circa 1911) and "about sixty years ago" (1913).

Seattle: "My parents got me quickly away from there to keep me from seeing the mangled bodies. So all I really know about it is what I can recall from hearing my father read aloud the account in the Kansas City Star."

Annapolis: Heinlein doesn't exactly claim he was present at the time.

We can build a circumstantial case that the accident really happened, not where Heinlein said it did, not someplace he was near, and not when he was five but when he was twelve-- but that it attracted plenty of attention among newspaper readers in Kansas City. So it's plausible that Heinlein forgot the details, but remembered the essential parts of the story.

We'd have to convince ourselves that Heinlein mis-remembered his age, and that he was confused in thinking that it occurred in his own city, even that he was nearby when it happened.

Is that easier to believe than the alternative, that an incident extremely similar to the Tanner tragedy occurred seven years earlier in Kansas City, but that a record of it has not yet been found?

Postscript: I also found a about a trust fund that helped the family of John Miller.

Author:  beamjockey [ Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

I figured out

Searching is free and displays snippets. While I don't, at this moment, feel like paying a paywall fee, I can report this:

Searching on "Tanner" in the fall of 1919 reveals that the paper had an item related to William Fitch Tanner's death on 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 28 September, and 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 October. I limited my search to 15 October. Most of these are reports on the ongoing campaign to raise funds for Tanner's children and the family of John Miller.

So a reader of the Star would have been reminded of the Tanner tragedy nearly every day for weeks. This supports my notion that the incident would have made a deep impression upon residents of Kansas City at the time. And Heinlein recalls hearing his father read aloud about an accident from the newspaper.

Author:  BillMullins [ Fri Aug 25, 2017 6:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Woman killed by train

At this point, I feel sure that Heinlein was misremembering the Tanner incident as having taken place in Swope Park. And the lapse is not unique; he also, I believe, conjured up some of the details of having seen a performance by Thurston the magician (as described ). And I'm not surprised that this happened; I'm sure that some of my own memories of elementary school years are wrong on specifics.

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