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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Five Hearses

Usually when you read about a funeral being the largest one the county had seen, it means a lot of mourners attended. The meaning is sadly different in the following story.

(Background information: Clara Mae Cramer married Howard B Barnes May 13, 1940, and the couple had six children, John 13, Irene 12, Edna Mae 11, Wilma 9, Howard Jr 4, and Sonya an infant daughter who died young. Clara Mae’s father Guy Cramer lived at Billett.


Lawrence County News August 19, 1954

Five members of one family were killed in the collision of a speeding Santa Fe freight train and an automobile loaded with ten persons. The Grundy County Illinois sheriff’s office said members of two families were crammed into the auto.  Deputies said the car drove through a wig-wag warning signal at the crossing on Coal City IL Main Street 60 miles southwest of Chicago and continued directly into the path of the westbound train.

The speeding train knocked the car against the wig-wag signal on the opposite side of the tracks.  The passengers in the car, including several small children, were thrown out. Four persons were killed at the scene and the fifth died enroute to a hospital.

Deputies said the driver of the car, Howard Barnes, 39, escaped with minor injuries. According to Barnes’ testimony he did not see the signal at the crossing and drove directly onto the tracks in the path of the oncoming freight train.


Grundy County Coroner said all the dead were members of Barnes’ family. He identified Howard Barnes’ wife Clara Mae, 33, his son Howard Jr 4, and his daughters Irene 12, Edna 11, and Wilma 9.  Taken to the hospital were Doris Shane 19, her 19 months son, and another of Barnes’ sons, Johnny 13. Another passenger in the car, Doris Shane’s husband was shaken up by the crash but was not hospitalized.

The largest multiple funeral service every held in Lawrence County was the one for the five members of the Howard Barnes family who were killed Friday night August 13, 1954. The bodies were brought to Vincennes Sunday afternoon and the funeral cortege of five funeral cars made its way to Lawrenceville headed by Sheriff Burgoon and Officer McFarland.  Burial was made in one grave 13 ft 6” wide in the Lawrenceville city cemetery.


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