Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eighty-Three Years Later, The Immortal Ten Are Still Remembered

It was 83 years ago this very week, on January 22, 1927, that a horrific accident took place in Round Rock, Texas. The event would end the lives of some, dramatically change the lives of many others, permanently impact a major Texas university, and would eventually lead to a new law, which in turn, has saved countless lives over the ensuing years.

In the early morning hours of January 22, 1927, a school bus left the Baylor University campus carrying its basketball team, the coach, and a few others, with the destination being the University of Texas, in Austin. Getting an early start for the basketball matchup with Texas, scheduled for later that evening, the bus was driven by a young freshman. It was a rainy cold morning, and driving the bus on the muddy roads in the wet weather was no easy chore, and it was very slow going. Despite the early start, it was around noon before the bus even reached Round Rock.

On the southern edge of town, railroad tracks crossed the road on which the bus was traveling. Unfortunately, an approaching train and the bus were on a collision course. While the train blew its whistle as it approached the crossing, it was not heard by anyone on the bus. By the time the driver and others on the bus saw the train, it was too late. Despite the young driver’s valiant last second attempt to avoid a collision, he was unsuccessful. The result was a catastrophe. The train hit the bus at a high speed, and ten people, almost half of the passengers on the bus perished.

The grief around Baylor in the initial days following the accident was overwhelming. The dead, quickly referred to as the “Immortal Ten,” were soon buried at various places around Texas, and the survivors went on with their lives. They became successful educators, coaches, and businessmen. One of the survivors was awarded the Medal of Honor, for heroic military actions during World War II. The survivors of the crash are all gone now, but like those who were taken from the earth on that late January day so many years ago, they are not forgotten.

Each year, during the Freshman Mass Meeting held during Baylor’s homecoming week, the story of the Round Rock crash is told, along with a reading of names of the victims. This tradition not only ensures that everyone attending Baylor is well familiar with the story of the Immortal Ten, it also serves to bring the students, faculty, and local community closer together. Additionally, within the last few years, an impressive memorial to the Immortal Ten, consisting of statutes and representations of those who were lost, has been erected on the Baylor campus.

One of the most important things which came from the tragedy in Round Rock was the passage of legislation which mandated overpasses or underpasses at railroad crossings on certain roadways in Texas. The very first overpass constructed as a result of the new law was at the site of the Baylor bus crash in Round Rock. Along with the overpass, a simple marker was erected listing the names of those whose lives were taken. The overpasses and underpasses mandated by the law have undoubtedly saved countless lives over the years across the state. And, this, perhaps, is the most important legacy of the tragedy.

On any given day, the trains still roar through that same railroad crossing in Round Rock. Fortunately, however, as the trains pass through town these days, motorists and pedestrians alike are protected from danger because of the sacrifice made 83 years ago, this very week, by the Baylor University basketball team, and it’s “Immortal Ten.”

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