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Some publicity stunts can be complete train wrecks. Like that one time in 1613 when a real cannon was used to spice up the production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII causing the entire Globe Theatre to burn to ground, or that time when the US Department of Defense decided to fly a Boeing 747 real low over Manhattan for a photo-shoot causing thousands of New Yorkers to nearly die of heart attack. Then, there are train wrecks that are publicity stunts.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, staged collisions between trains coming from opposing directions were smashing hits in state fairs across the United States, drawing crowds in tens of thousands. One Joseph S. Connolly, from Iowa, made a career out of it—between 1896 and 1932, “Head-On Joe” successfully staged as many as 73 train wrecks at fairgrounds and other events across the nation, mostly in the Midwest. Connolly’s violent spectacles were so safe that in his nearly four-decade-long career, he never had anyone injured in the collisions. The same cannot be said for William George Crush, the marketing manager of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway.


Railway crews pose with the two locomotives in 1896 near Waco, Texas, before the staged crash.

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