Mar 232012

I read many newspapers and particularly enjoy weeklies. There’s a certain charm from reading a community newspaper. Perhaps, as I grow older, I also appreciate the sense of history these newspapers represent.

Recently, I was reading the “Remember When” column in my hometown newspaper and saw the following news item from 65 years ago, Thursday, Feb. 27, 1947: Mr. and Mrs. Carl Enz received word that their daughter, Donna, a student at Purdue University, was not injured in the accident Monday evening when a bleacher in the Purdue Fieldhouse collapsed, injuring 250 other basketball fans during a game.

That Purdue freshman is my aunt, Donna Enz Argon, who remembers the crash as if it were yesterday. She and her date were late to the game and sat in the balcony, above the crash area.

The famous Purdue bleacher crash happened on Monday evening, Feb. 24, 1947. According to a “Purdue Alumnus” article, more than 10,000 fans had packed the old pre-Mackey Fieldhouse (now called Lambert Fieldhouse) to watch the Boilers play the Wisconsin Badgers for first place in the Big Ten Conference.

Immediately after the first half finished and teams headed to their respective locker rooms, the bleachers on the east side of the Fieldhouse collapsed, sending 3,400 fans to the floor.

My aunt said that her first thought was to get back to Cary East where she was a corridor rep for her floor. Purdue was crowded with GIs after World War II, and freshmen women were doubled up in single rooms in the large dormitory which is still used almost seven decades later.

Of the 20 or so women on her corridor, no one was hurt, said my aunt. She remembered a girl in a neighboring corridor who was there with a date who told her to lift her legs. The girl said, “Why” and in the split second it took to answer the question, both of her legs were broken by the boards ahead of her. Another acquaintance of my aunt returned to her Cary Quad room and complained to her roommate of back pain. She had broken her back and had to be carried out of the dorm on her room door.

My aunt credits the lack of hysteria after the accident to the calming presence of so many GI Bill students who had been involved in many emergency situations all over the world.

For my aunt, her urgent responsibility was accounting for every freshman girl on her corridor. She rushed back to Cary, talked with each girl, reported to the housemother, and then went back to her room and passed out cold. She woke up on the ice-cold floor, fine, but seeing her weeping classmates above her.

She said, “Those GIs had been in many emergency situations. This Indiana farm girl had not.”


Published March 2012 in the Evansville Courier and Press.

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