I heard the following story on an episode of QI (series J, episode “Journalism”), but I’ve supplemented it with some research of my own.
Apparently a good way to promote new railway lines in the nineteenth century was to stage train crashes as publicity stunts.
In 1896, an agent of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, rather aptly named William George Crush, decided to hold one of these such events. It was free to the public, train tickets were offered on a discount, and 40,000 people showed up to watch two trains crash into each other head on.
The gathering was so big that it became a temporary city, known as “Crush, Texas”, and at the time was the second largest city in all of Texas.
The crowd was assembled and the trains were put on their end of a four mile track. They gathered speed and crashed into each other, as planned, with the crew jumping out far in advance of the crash. Unfortunately, not everything went to plan, since the force of the impact caused both engine boilers to explode, sending metal flying everywhere and causing the crowd to panic. Three people were killed and a further six very seriously injured.
The event photographer, Jarvis “Joe” Deane lost an eye to a flying bolt.
William George Crush was immediately fired from the railroad. He was rehired the very next day, however, when it was discovered that there was very little negative publicity about the event.