Thursday, 25 February 2016

A lack of negative publicity

The Wikipedia twitter account has started posting awesome niche articles, almost like they know I'm watching. I can't resist a quick post about one from today.

Behold: Crush, Texas.

This glorious Wes Anderson movie event took place in the middle of nowhere in 1896. The details are too perfect:

A railway baron who was literally called Crush decided to hold a jolly, educational display in which he would crash two trains into each other as fast as possible. In response to this promise of true art, 40,000 people trekked into the desert to bear witness. The trains were smashed together, and the resulting blast killed a number of onlookers and injured several more.

A parable of humanity. A manifestation of pure irony. A fascinating historical insight. Today we have Michael Bay, but in the old days they had to pay - in blood, dammit - for their big pointless explosions.

But as ever, it's not the story itself that's my favourite part. It's the Wikipedia article. For starters, the opening is a masterclass in understated, Game-of-Thrones-style lulling into a false sense of security. The small detail of the gory denouement is relegated to one short sentence in the introduction (prefaced by the wonderfully deadpan "unexpectedly..."), and another even shorter one lost in the body of the article. The rest of the content entirely relates to details other than the fact that people died after willingly attending a literal train wreck.

We learn, for example, that the stunt was so well attended that the site was considered a temporary "city" with the second greatest population in the state. We learn the colours and makes of the trains involved, and that their crews had to be on board at the start to get them going, before leaping from the moving engines. We learn how high the enormous chunks of cast iron debris were forced into the air by the explosion ("hundreds of feet"). We learn which episode of the History Channel covered this breathtaking chapter in the history of human folly. We learn quite a lot about Scott Joplin's composition that commemorated the event.

We even learn this magnificent tidbit, which I think shines a light on today's american politics:
Crush was immediately fired from the Katy railroad. In light of a lack of negative publicity, however, he was rehired the next day
But at no point does the article dwell on the thought processes or chain of decisions that lead to, and apologies if I'm repeating myself here, a huge number of people thinking it would be a good idea to crash two pressurised steam engines together at high speed in close proximity to spectators.

And no one lost their job.

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