Monthly Archives: June 2016

June 29, 1893—Follow-up on the Circus Catastrophe

One week after the disastrous lightning and fire at the circus in River Falls, the River Falls Journal ran a follow-up article detailing how the injured survivors were doing.

Incidents and Results of Wednesday’s Catastrophe.

We are pleased to be justified in saying that all the injured in the late catastrophe are doing well and will ultimately recover.  Some of them however were severely injured and it will require time and nursing to bring them back to their normal condition.  Mrs. James Glenndenning was perhaps the most seriously injured of any one.  She was not strong and her physicians feared the worst for a time.  They consider her now in a fair way to recovery.  The surviving boy who was injured by the same bolt that killed his father and brother and came so near making him doubly and orphan has quite recovered.

Alfred Mapes another of the seriously injured is recovering the use of himself, his burns which were severe now being the principal cause of suffering.  The same may be said of Rosess and Delhorbe.  Their burns are very severe, so much so as to make any movement of the limbs painful.  Their general health is good and this with the vigorous health of young manhood will bring them safely out of their injuries.

James Jackman of Pleasant Valley was paralyzed by the lightning on the 21st and was hors de combat¹ for several days, but now feels no especial inconvenience except that his muscles do not seem to perform their ordinary functions with the accustomed alacrity.

Hans Larson also complains that the shock he received at the same time has left him in a very “shaky” condition, but he thinks this “shaky” state of affairs in his own system may be the result of sympathy with the financial outlook.

Mr. Moulton received a shock that stunned and prostrated him but received no injury.  Mrs. Moulton was standing beside him resting her hand on his shoulder, this hand was severely burned.

Curtis Aldrich’s experience was remarkable and his own escape borders on the miraculous.  He was severely[,] and it was thought for several hours after the accident fatally[,] injured.  He remained unconscious far into the night and was paralyzed to such an extent that the physicians could detect no pulsations in the left side of his body for six hours or more, but yesterday Mr. Aldrich was on the street walking about with bandaged feet assisted only by a crutch.  This is his third tussle with lightening.  Once he was thrown nearly across a room when a bolt struck the chimney of the house in which he was stopping.  When he received the shock on the 21st which killed his little boy he was holding the latter by the hand.  What a mournful experience!  Clasping the little hand of his trusting child whose happy face was turned to his father’s listening intently to catch the meaning of words never fully pronounced and the lightning descended from heaven and that hand was limp and lifeless, the voice was hushed and the happy heard of childhood stood still, but the smile remained upon the placid face of innocence.  What an awful awakening came to that fond father when the full consciousness returned to him!  Health may be restored to him, all that the world could give which he may desire may be his, but there will be a void unfilled all along his earthly pilgrimage, his child will come not back.  He will look with an unspeakable longing for Claud, but he will never again see him running down the road with joyous shout to meet him on his return from the city.  He will not hear his glad voice at play among his fellows. Coming from the field he will miss him in his accustomed place, his chair at the table will be vacant, he will be alone in the fields and on the highway and in the bosom of the night.  In agony will his soul cry out in the darkness for his lost boy but he will hear no answering hair.  There will be silence and gloom.

Claud was eight years old—not an infant whose young mind could not comprehend or appreciate, nor a youth who had drawn himself away from his father—self-reliant and independent but he was in that trusting age of his life when he can understand but leans wholly on his father, relies upon him, confides in him, believes him the best and wisest man, and that father’s heart enshrines him completely, his love encircles him, his arm is around him, he has grown into his father’s life, these two are one.  Never before the age of six or seven are they so and never after the child is ten. And suddenly this young life is torn away from the father’s heart; a part of that heart lies in the grave of the dead child.  He will cherish the memory of his child, it will be sweet and green and fragrant.  He lives with him in the past, he hears his dear voice—a voice that thrilled him as the sweetest music could not, he sees the smiling face still, every incident of that innocent and happy life comes to his thoughts to-day.  And these thoughts will repeat themselves every day of that father’s mortal life, but “it is well with the child.”

The case of little Floyd Smith, is similar in some of its aspects to that of the above.  Mr. Smith, the father, is nearly blind and depended in a large measure upon the help and guidance of the son, who was fourteen. Sympathy for these bereaved families is universal and sincere.

The lightning played strange freaks with watches.  In one instance the links of the chain were melted and welded into a solid mass, the stem of the case melted completely off, the case perforated and the crystal broken into fragments, yet the watch had not stopped running.   In another instance two holes were made through the cover of the case;  in another the chain broken into several pieces and the case melted nearly through.

The center pole of the tent that received the shock was splintered into innumerable fragments as if by an explosion, only small fragments being discoverable, a proof of the immense and sudden force of the bolt.

1.  Hors de combat is a French expression, literally meaning “out of the fight,” and generally meaning a soldier who is incapable of waging war, who is out of action due to injury, sickness, or damage.

June 21, 1893, Circus Disaster in River Falls

Following is an article from the River Falls Journal from June 22, 1893, describing a disaster at the circus the day before, June 21.


Few occasions have ever called to this city from the surrounding country a larger concourse of people than that which yesterday assembled here to witness the Ringling Bros. Shows.  In the morning the streets were lined with an eager and joyous throng to view the splendid pageant of the street parade.  In the afternoon the great tents were filled with the same gay and curious crowd.

The weather had been sultry and hot.  Early in the afternoon great banks of ominous clouds were gathering in the west and the deep roar of the thunder was almost continuous.  Not long after 3 o’clock the heavens were inky black with the portending storm.  The rain fell in torrents; the flashes of lightning were frequent and intense; the crash of the thunder was terrific.

The performance in the main tent was over.  A large number of the residents of the city had left for their homes at the commencement of the storm.  A large number of people were still in the menagerie tents viewing the caged animals.

A blinding flash of lightning filling the tent with a sheet of fire followed instantly by a terrific crash as of the discharge of heavy cannon paralyzed the groups of sightseers.  A cry of terror went up that the great white tents were struck!  No description can be adequate to the scene that followed.  It was at once known that several people were killed and an unknown number prostrated and more or less injured.

Two separate shocks were felt with a distinct interval between.  The bolt struck one of the center poles near the main entrance, around and near which was a group of one hundred or more people.  The bolt of lightning in striking the pole caused a gasoline reservoir that was attached to it for lighting the tent to explode scattering the burning contents over the crowd, burning a few of them.

The scenes of confusion and consternation that followed when the survivors began to realize the extent of the fatality and the nearness of their own peril beggars description.  Dazed men, women, and children surged in great crowds, some forced by curiosity towards the scene of disaster, some terror-stricken fleeing by every exit out into the pouring rain, some white with horror seeing the sheet of flame that flashed on their vision believing the great tents were on fire raised the cry “Leave the tent!” It was only by great presence of mind on the part of the proprietors and their employees that the panic was stayed before fatal results followed from the incipient stampede.

The Ringlings exerted themselves to render every assistance to the dead and injured.

An ambulance was furnished and the dead soon gathered up and taken to the Eugine House where they were generally identified in a short time.  Their names, four full grown men and three little boys, are as follows [bullets added]:

  1. Alfred O. Deans, a young married man, son of J. A. Deans of Kinnickinnic Township,
  2. Eugene Reynolds, unmarried, of Kinnickinnic,
  3. James A. Glendenning, married, leaves a wife (herself dangerously injured) and a little boy also dangerously hurt—his only other child a boy of twelve years old was killed . Mr. Glendenning was town clerk of Oak Grove.
  4. Clark Mapes, single, son of the late James Mapes of Kinnickinnic.
  5. Claude Aldrich, the twelve year old son of Curtis Aldrich of Troy,
  6. and little Floyd Smith, son of Wallace Smith of Clifton.

The names of some of the injured are: Mrs. James A. Glendenning seriously  injured, the doctors say dangerously.  She is not at the Tremont.  Her husband and one son were instantly killed, the other son badly hurt.  This is the entire family.  A fearful awakening will come to this poor woman when she can realize the full extent of her awful loss.  It seems that one might wish to be spared such a fate by sharing that of those we morn.  They experienced no suffering, their death was absolutely instantaneous, and who would not prefer so to make his departure rather than by lingering diseases.  It is reported that Mrs. Alfred O. Deans is also injured.  She is a sister to Mrs. Glendenning both being daughters of Mr. Morgan of pleasant Valley.  Earnest and Howard Deans brother of Alfred were also injured.  Alfred Mapes brother of Clark Mapes was hurt, also Pat Collins, Harding Kelly, James Kelly, Mrs. G. W. Maier of Beldenville, Curtis Aldrich of Troy, Sydney Symes, William B. Delhorbe, Joesph Phenning, Louis Turnquist, Lewis Rossesand and Lars Larson.  Mrs. Ault, niece of Jay Loucks, was somewhat injured.

Many others received sever shocks and yet feel the sensation in partially paralyzed limbs.  One young man had his thumb split probably a splinter of the tent pole, and was so dazed that he did not regain control of his senses until an hour after the shock when he found himself a mile from home and going the opposite direction to his home.

Six men bore off the paralyzed form of a young man names Lewis Rosses of Spring Valley whose face and breast were terribly burned and whose lower extremities were paralyzed.  At a later hour he recovered consciousness and was kindly nursed.  He is badly burned and his lower limbs still benumbed, but is not considered fatally injured.

Wm. B. Delhorbe, aged 18, is badly hurt.  His parents live at Norman, Oklahoma Territory.  He has been working on the farm of Thomas R. Morrow.  When struck he was holding the hand of a little boy.  The boy was shocked but soon recovered and walked around apparently as sound as ever.

Wm. Delhorbe will be good as new in a few days.

Rod McGregor’s little girl was paralyzed temporarily and his little boy has a burn on his back.

Jay. E. Loucks, proprietor of the Gladstone hotel, and his whole family were thrown to the ground by the shock but received no injury.  One of the killed fell against Mr. Loucks.

Two men now at the hotel were injured but their names have not be ascertained.  Archie O’Brien of Oak Grove is also reported injured.

This terrible catastrophe has cast a gloom over the whole community.  Tears are in the eyes and voices of the living.  All that can be done by skill of physicians, tenderest nursing and kindest words of loving friends is freely and earnestly given to the injured and the bereaved.  Universal sympathy is expressed for all who are so suddenly bereaved by these untimely deaths.

No blame attaches in any way to the circus managers, they are universally commended for their thoughtfulness and care during and after the accident.