Biggest Circus Accidents in History

Monday, May 05, 2014


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The Ringling Brothers accident at Providence's Dunkin' Donut Center was only the latest in high profile accidents that lead to serious injuries and death in the circus industry. The Providence accident is the second major accident of the year. In Roanoke Virginia a motorcycle performer was severely injured in a February accident (see Below).

Ringling Solely Responsible for Rigging

Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Brothers, Disney on Ice, Monster Jam,and many other live touring entertainment shows, is solely responsible for the rigging of the circus in Providence.

"All injured parties were conscious at the time of emergency response. The incident occurred during the "Hair Hangers" aerial act.

Emergency medical services were on scene at the time of the accident and immediately rendered aid. Additional Providence Fire and Police personnel quickly responded to facilitate the transportation of all injured to Rhode Island Hospital and orderly crowd evacuation.

A full investigation of the incident is under way by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in cooperation with the City of Providence and the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus received all required permits from the City of Providence to hold the show. The Circus is solely responsible for the setup and rigging of the show," according to the statement issued by the office of Public Safety for the City of Providence.

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Circus Industry under fire

Presently, the circus industry is under criticism and both Republicans and Democrats at the federal state and local levels are pushing for legislation to restrict the industry.

Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, the co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, has introduced the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act to restrict the use of exotic, non-domestic animals touring with circuses.

"From video and photographic evidence, it’s clear that traveling circuses aren’t providing the proper living conditions for exotic animals. This legislation is intended to target the most egregious situations involving exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses,” said Rep. Jim Moran. “The mounting evidence of inhumane treatment and the growing public concern for these animals demands that we reconsider what are appropriate living conditions for these intelligent, social creatures.”

Feld Entertainment strongly opposes the Moran legislation, " it would remove the American public's right to choose for itself whether Ringling Bros. Circus, a 144-year old American tradition, can continue to operate.  In addition, Congressman Moran's bill threatens the jobs of more than 750 full-time employees working for the circus, including many union members he so often claims to support.  The real truth is that animals can and do travel and perform safely and humanely."

The battle between the circus industry and legislators are playing out across the country. In Los Angeles, the City passed legislation restricting the use of elephants.

Feld fired back with a strongly worded response, "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is disappointed by the decision of the Los Angeles City Council that effectively bans circuses from performing with elephants in the City.  The City Council has taken the extreme step of outlawing the use of guides, also referred to as “bullhooks,” which is a critical tool that the circus needs to present elephants.  Today’s decision was unsupported by any evidence or proof of elephant abuse in Los Angeles, and more importantly, it did not implement any measures that would improve the welfare of animals.  Instead, it will deprive families of the right to take their children to see live animals at the circus."

Accidents and Injuries 

Below is a list of a number of high profile accidents in circus history.

PLEASE NOTE: Wikipedia, Listverse and content were sources for this story.


Related Slideshow: Biggest Circus Accidents in History

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7.  Roanoke Virginia Motorcycle Accident

In February of this year a motorcyclist was badly injured when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a wall at the Civic Center. He was hospitalized with serious injuries.  Julian Gomez was in critical condition.
The injured rider sparked concern others, according to
"Hello everybody, we need some help for a Colombian guy who was doing a motocross freestyle show in Roanoke and had an accident and is actually in coma. His family is here, but it doesn't have transportation. We would like to see if somebody has a cheap car that they can use to go to the hospital (they have us drive license) you can also help with money. If you can help, contact me here or at 5407984479."
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6. Mary the Elephant

In 1916, an elephant named Mary killed her handler Red Eldridge. It sparked a media firestorm and there are various accounts of what led to the attack—"from Eldridge prodding Mary with a stick and infuriating her, to speculation that she was simply bored."
Eldridge’s death was tragic and gruesome and the elephant Mary’s was equally gruesome. According to press reports,  a crowd of 2,500 people gathered and Mary was hung from the neck by an industrial crane. 
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5.  Flying Wallendas

The Flying Wallendas are the most storied tight-ropers in performance history. 
The old circus family that consisted of Karl, his wife Helen Kreis, his brother Herman, and numerous other family members.  Karl Wallenda pioneered an act called the Seven-Person Chair Pyramid, in which seven people balanced on tightropes (and a chair) thirty-two feet in the air without the use of safety nets.
The Wallendas were undoubtedly excellent acrobats and daredevils; but in 1962, their act went horribly wrong. The lead man faltered, and three people crashed to the ground. Karl Wallenda’s son-in-law, Richard Faughnan, and Wallenda’s nephew, Dieter Schepp, were both killed. Wallenda’s adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.
On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda fell from the wire and died. It was between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories high. He was 73. Nik Wallenda completed the walk on June 4, 2011, with his mother, Delilah.
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4. Dessi Espana

Another Ringling Brothers acrobat that suffered a serious accident and was killed. In 2004, Dessi Espana was a Bulgarian-American who came from a family of performers.  She had performed for years and even held a Guinness World Record. Unfortunately, a technical failure. Espana was performing an aerial act with chiffon scarves when a mechanism holding the cloth in place failed, and she fell thirty feet, head-first. Espana later died from her injuries.
According to a Feld Entertainment statement, Dessi Espana, 32, a star performer in the Hometown Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, was critically injured during a matinee performance on Saturday, May 22nd at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was immediately taken to Regions Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at approximately 10:20 p.m. She is survived by her husband, Ivan, and their two children, Zore and Sian.
“I've known Dessi from the day she was born. She was a beautiful and talented young woman, a performer in our shows for decades who was beloved by everyone in our circus family” said Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Producer Kenneth Feld. “We were all so thrilled when the entire Espana troupe joined the Hometown Edition. Having such a talented family of performers involved in such a unique production made each show that much more special. Dessi will be remembered forever for touching countless hearts and bringing immeasurable joy to millions of families worldwide. Our thoughts and prayers are with the extended Espana family during this painful time.”
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3. ‪Siegfried & Roy‬ Tiger Attack

On October 3, 2003, during a show at the Mirage, Roy Horn was bitten on the neck by a 7-year-old male white tiger named Mantecore Fishbacher Horn.
Crew members separated Horn from the tiger and rushed him to the only Level I trauma center in Nevada, University Medical Center. Horn was critically injured and sustained severe blood loss.
While being taken to the hospital, Horn said, "Mantecore is a great cat. Make sure no harm comes to Mantecore."
Source: Wikipedia
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2. The Cleveland Circus Fire

According to Listverse, "There were no human fatalities in the Cleveland Circus Fire of 1942 but the fire caused the deaths of over one hundred circus animals.
A fire of unknown origin started near the menagerie tent of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Spectators and circus workers easily escaped the flames, but the fire spread so quickly, it became impossible to save all of the animals.
Nine cages—filled with lions, tigers, and zebras—burst into flames. Some animals were able to escape the blaze, but twenty-six others were so badly burned they were put down by policemen with machine guns."
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1. Hartford Circus Fire

The Hartford Circus fire was a tragic event and arguably the most well-known on our list, due to the scale of the fire and the extensive loss of life.
On July 6, 1944, a small fire began in the southwest sidewall of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey big top circus tent. Because the tent was water-proofed with paraffin wax and gasoline, the fire spread rapidly.
Understandably, the crowd of seven thousand spectators panicked and rushed towards the exits. But two of these exits were blocked by chutes used to bring in circus animals—and in the ensuing stampede, circus goers were trampled, crushed, and asphyxiated under the weight of fallen people. As the flames spread, other spectators simply burned to death, or else died as a result of smoke inhalation. In a panic, some people tried leaping from the bleachers to avoid the fire; but this attempt to escape actually killed more people than it saved.
In the end, an estimated 169 people died and more than seven hundred were injured.

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