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Profiles in Badassery: Harry G. Leslie

Not bad for a guy that was proclaimed dead 34 years before he actually died.

Today's Profile in Badassery is courtesy of you readers. I have been asked twice this week if I take suggestions for these entries. I am always welcome to showcasing any alumni that is suggested by the readers. Stephen R. Meyer tweeted me the suggestion this week of Harry G. Leslie, former Governor of Indiana and West Lafayette native.

Leslie's early years

Like Bubba Day, Leslie was a townie that stayed home for school. I think Bubba was probably the better 3-point shooter, especially since the game of basketball had barely been invented when Leslie was in high school. Leslie was born on August 6, 1878. He was the son of a local politician and the chief of police, meaning he could always throw the best campus parties since he knew his dad wouldn't raid them.

His career in politics began shortly after he graduated high school, as he was elected as West Lafayette's town clerk in 1898 before he even enrolled at Purdue. Leslie eventually decided that college was in order, so he enrolled at Purdue. He was a member of a pair of fraternities, Sigma Pi and Acacia. He was also a star and captain of the baseball and football teams. It was with the football team that he would perform his greatest feat. It was a feat even greater than being Governor

The Halloween railroad crash.

In 2003, the year Purdue finished its renovations of Ross-Ade Stadium, the athletic department dedicated the tunnel at the southeast corner of the stadium to the victims of the infamous Purdue railroad crash 100 years before. On October 31, 1903 a special train carrying more than 1,500 passengers from Lafayette to Indianapolis for the first ever neutral site game against Indiana was chartered.

As the train rounded a curve in Indianapolis near 18th street it collided with a coal train that was being backed up on the tracks. The coal train never knew the special was coming because of poor communication, and even though the engineer of the special attempted to slow down his train, a collision was unavoidable.

Naturally, the aftermath was quite grisly. Seventeen people were killed on the special, including 14 members of the football team. More would have died on the second special behind the first one if survivors had not run back up the tracks to slow it down.

File:Purdue Wreck.jpg

The 1903 Purdue wreck

This is where Leslie becomes a true badass. Originally, 18 people were declared dead at the scene. Leslie, the team captain, was among the dead. He was taken to a local morgue, where a few hours later a mortician prepared to embalm his body. This mortician was in for a surprise, as he found that Leslie had a pulse despite the noticeable handicap of being declared dead hours earlier.

Leslie's status was quickly upgraded to "alive" and he was taken to a hospital, where he fought death off several times through multiple operations over the following weeks.  Though he was forced to walk with a cane for the rest of his life, Leslie regained his health and returned to school in 1904.

Post-Purdue life

In 1905 Leslie received his law degree. Again, not a bad achievement for a dead guy. He went on to open his own practice in Lafayette a year after graduation and also coached high school football. After marrying in 1910 and fathering three sons he continued to be involved in local politics.

In 1923 he was elected to the Indiana House of representatives for Tippecanoe and Warren County. Two years later he was named as Speaker of the House and continued his badassery in the political forum. He helped lead Indiana into the 20th century by fighting against the Ku Klux Klan, which dominated the state at the time of his election. He eventually helped force out several Klan members in the house despite the fact that they helped him become speaker. He also helped start Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, one of the leading children's hospitals in the country.


In 1928 Leslie beat out four other competitors at the Republican convention to win the nomination for Governor. He defeated Indianapolis mayor Frank Daily with 51.3% of the vote to become the 33rd Governor of Indiana. Once there, he continued to fight the Klan and he guided the state of Indiana through a little thing called The Great Depression. He enacted several policies to fight the Depression, but only served as governor until 1933.

After leaving office he founded the Standard Life Insurance Company and spent time with close friends George Ade and Will Rogers. He was visiting Ade in Miami when a heart attack took his life on December 10, 1937.

Leslie was a true badass not only for performing a Jesus act and rising from the dead, but for fighting the good fight with the second chance he was given. It is because of him that racial persecution in this state was reduced. He also helped found a wonderful children's hospital that has given hope to many families over the years. He fought to keep people employed in the time of America's greatest economic crisis, and helped prepare others for financial troubles through Standard Life. For all that, we salute Harry G. Leslie with this Profile in Badassery.