10 Most Horrifying Circus Accidents From The Past

Circus was once a very lucrative industry consisting of great human skills for people’s entertainment. Before the emergence of technology, circus was among the few magical delights to experience for a common family. Despite the fact that circus and its dark side have been fallen now, circus has already witnessed the risk of accidents and losses. We have listed the dreadful accidents in the circus from the past.

10. Lion-Tamer – Massarti

Massarti a.k.a. Thomas MacCarte was a brave one-armed lion tamer who lost his one arm to the lions in the circus. He was performing on 3rd January, 1872 in Bolton when he was clawed to death by the circus lions in front of hundreds of audiences that were watching the incident helplessly. His act was almost complete when a lion named “Tyrant” attacked him through his back and another lion clawed him in his ribs and another lion ripped his scalp open and his skin was hanging down off his neck.

When Massarti was trying to escape by stabbing at the lions, police was firing blank rounds. When the authorities fired heated irons to three lions to get rid of them, the fourth one dragged him to the cage. When he was brought out, he died.

9. Dessi Espana

She was a heartthrob and well known circus performer. She twirled 75 hula hoops at the same time and entered Guinness Book of World Record. The Bulgarian-American performer also belongs to a circus performer family and had very fulfilling and successful career until 2004. She performed aerial acts using chiffon scarves well but died while performing it. The glitch on technical mechanism couldn’t hold the chiffon and Espana fell 30 ft. down on the ground, landed on her head.

8. Accident on St. Louis Trapeze

Trapeze is among the most threatening acts in the circus, performed by two of the most reckless and daring trapeze performers, Billy Millson and Fred Lazelle. They were almost sure to face the dead end. Due to the technical fault, the performers crashed over the gymnast “George North”. Millson faced broken ribs and George North had internal injuries. But they luckily survived.

7. Mary – A Killer Elephant

A circus elephant, Mary squashed her handler to the ground for some unknown reasons on September 12, 1916. Since then, her behavior led to wide conjectures. Some believed that she was mismanaged and poked by Red Eldridge, her handler. While some say that she was annoyed and wanted to do something she likes. No matter what the reason may be, she created mass outrage with the incident. So, people demanded the revenge and Mary was hung by neck through a crane in front of 2500 people (mostly children). The crane couldn’t handle her heavy weight and she fell to the ground and her hip broke. After being hung, she died eventually.

6. The Duluth Lynchings

It is a dreadful reminder of the dark side of circus in American history, which happened on June 15, 1920. A 19-year-old girl Irene Tusken went on to watch the circus and African-African workers loaded the wagons. Around 6 employees in James Robinson Circus raped the girl. Several black men who were accused of committing this heinous act were arrested.  It led to heightened racial conflict in the nation. A mob entered into the jail and declared Isaac McGhie, Elias Clayton and Elmer Jackson guilty of offense, after a mock trial. They lynched them to the light pole after taking out from the jail. The lynch mob was just taken lightly for punishment when black community demanded justice.

5. Train Disaster at the Wallace Bros. Circus

In 1903, failure of breaks caused a significant crash of two trains. When first train stopped, the engineer at the second train couldn’t stop when he saw the red signal because of brake failure. So, the second train clashed to several cars and the terrific force killed various animals and 30 circus employees. However, 27 other workers managed to survive.

4. The Flying Wallendas

The Wallendas family was the most talented acrobats in circus for several years and called as the “Flying Wallendas”. Karl Wallenda was the head of the family who excelled the Seven-Person Chair Pyramid acrobatic act. It consists of 7 family members, including his wife Helen Kreis and Herman, his brother.

The daredevils balanced on the ropes and a chair, around 32 ft. from the ground. They never employed safety nets. A tragedy occurred in 1962 when the head of the family faltered and all of them crashed to the ground. His son-in-law Richard Faughnan and his nephew Dietar Schepp died, while the lower end of body of Mario, his adopted son, was paralyzed.

3. Hagenbeck-Wallace Train Wreck

On June 22, 1918, another train wreck took place when Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train was traveling and came to a halt for one night. The train had 400 performers and most of them were sleeping. They didn’t know that a troop train of Michigan Central Railroad was heading just towards them at the speed of 35 miles per hour.

The troop train clashed to the circus train at around 4:00 am and killed 86 people and 127 people were injured. Alonzo Sargent, the driver of troop train fell asleep while the train is running. He was an experienced man but slept in the working hours. He fell asleep because of heavy meals, some kidney pills, lack of sleep, and smooth rolling of his engine, and he missed warnings and automatic signals.

2. The Cleveland Circus Fire

In 1942, the accident took place and caused death of around 100 circus animals. The fire took place because of unexplained reasons around the tent of Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Bros. Circus. People escaped but animals stayed trapped and burned till death. Around 100 zebras, tigers, camels, lions and other animals of the circus died in the flames which burned the tents from hay and straw. Few animals survived but they were burned so badly that they were left to death.

1. Fire in Harford Circus

On July 6, 1944, the fire took place at the Hartford Circus in Connecticut. It was among the worst fire mishaps ever seen in the US. A small fire started in the south sidewalls of the top circus tent which managed to spread very rapidly and the canvas of the tent was coated with paraffin wax of 820 kg. It was dissolved in kerosene of 23000 liters to make tents waterproof. Around 7000 people attended the circus on that tragic day. Out of them, 169 people died of fire, smoke and stampede, and 700 were injured.