Thursday, January 12, 2017
Boom! Train Explosion in Woodlawn area of Birmingham
Have you ever heard a loud noise and wondered what is the world could have made that sound? Today, we head online to social media and media outlets as the news is almost instant. One hundred years ago in 1917, that was not the case, and the citizens of Birmingham had to wait until the next morning to read in the newspaper what really happened.
On January 7, 1917, readers of The Birmingham Age-Herald and The Birmingham News discovered that there had been an explosion on Birmingham special train of the Southern Railway near Woodlawn. Ambulances rushed to Terminal Station, and carried the wounded to local hospitals. The explosion killed 3 people and injured 15 people. The explosion was not an accident, but a deliberate act perpetrated by Louis Walton.
What was Walton’s motive for blowing up the train? In 1915, Walton’s business partner, Mr. O. Barton, was found shot to death, and Walton was put on trial for his murder. The motive was to collect insurance money resulting from the death of his business partner. The courts indicted Walton for murder twice, but the two trials ended up as mistrials. However, public opinion was against Walton as many people believed that he has shot his business partner for the insurance money.
The explosion was planned as Walton had taken out multiple insurance policies the week before his train trip. Walton left behind a wife, and the insurance settlement would have left her a very wealthy woman. Insurance policies pay out double the amount for an accidental death on a train, and Walton’s wife might have received over $60,000 with this double indemnity clause. However, insurance policies do not pay out if a death is ruled a suicide. Walton’s plan unraveled, as later that week, the coroner ruled Walton’s death a suicide.
Enjoyed this story of Birmingham’s history? The Southern History Department will share a story, picture, or advertisement each Thursday from 1917 for Throwback Thursday on its Facebook page. Like the Southern History Department on Facebook, so you will not miss any of the stories of what life was like in Birmingham 100 years ago.