Saturday, August 08, 2015

Circuses Under Siege: From Creepy Clowns to Abused Elephants, What Next — Bloody Big Tops?

The collapse of the Walker Bros. Big Top at the Lancaster, NH fairgrounds last week, as a storm approached, leaving two dead, and many injured, called to mind the collapse of a section of seats on Toby Tyler Circus a number of years ago. 

The falling seats did not kill anybody, but the adverse publicity may have kept a few people away from canvas arenas.

And I wondered, putting the tragic Hartford Fire of 1944 aside, has there ever been a single circus patron killed due to a circus tent  getting knocked about in the wind, or, worst of all, loosing stakes and crashing to the ground?  I can't think of an incident. 

A week or so earlier, there was the news of a few people dying inside a falling “circus’ tent at a festival in Chicago. Circus tent. Those two words.   Yet another setback for our beleaguered big tops?

Early reports suggest careless mismanagement on the part of Walker Bros. Circus  No permit to operate on the fairgrounds. No testing of the tent prior to the shows going on.  No taking action in the face of severe storm warnings.

Given all the storms through history that have visited our nation’s big tops, it now seems remarkable that not more people have been killed under battered big tops.

And then I thought of the Carson & Barnes big top that was felled earlier this year down in Texas, and of a home made video taken, just before it happened, showing an aerialist doing her routine when, one might argue, the show by then should have been halted, the crowd carefully ushered out.

But, nobody was seriously injured, as I recall, at Carson & Barnes Circus.

It’s a pity when one show operates in so apparently reckless a fashion. It hurts them all.  The Robert Ringling run Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, when it reached Hartford in 1944,  from courtroom accounts following the tragedy was recklessly supervised and operated, key safety precautions ignored.  Two or three men went to prison.

It appears that what happened to Walker Bros. Circus should not have happened at all. That somebody was not minding the tent.

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