Crushes on Strangers

The Contradiction

The Contradiction
Credit: The Texas Collection, Baylor University

It’s rare to find a word with the versatility of crush: It is a verb, a noun, a delicious soft drink; it is practically onomatopoeia. It’s a gratifying word, and there’s an entire universe of meaning inside its five letters. It is as soft and as hard as a word can get. I will crush you; I have a crush on you.

Not surprisingly, the crush Wikipedia page is quite robust. There is the movie with Alicia Silverstone. There is a Dave Matthews song (of course). There is a Mates of State album. Tragically, there is something called a crush film, in which live animals are stepped on. This is the opposite of what I might expect from a crush film. 

Perhaps most alluring is the tale of Crush, Texas, a town which existed only for one day in 1896. The town was the brainchild of an enterprising passenger agent for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, who hoped to gin up publicity with the grimmest of spectacles. He would stage a train wreck smack dab in the flat, nowhere middle of Texas, close to modern-day Waco. For just $2, anyone in the state could travel there by train, to gawk as two locomotives barreled toward each other at 45 mph, stopped by their mutual self-destruction. The name of the man who hatched this brilliant plan? William George Crush.

His trainwreck didn’t go quite as planned. Forty thousand people came, but three spectators died in the explosion. One photographer lost an eye. Crush lost his job that day. (He was re-hired the next.) It is no coincidence that today’s reality TV boom is frequently referred to as “train wreck television.” It has the same dark fascination and violence as that 1896 event, and inspires the same love-hate, push-pull inherent in the word crush itself.

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