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.

One response to “June 21, 1893, Circus Disaster in River Falls

  1. Pingback: June 29, 1893—Follow-up on the Circus Catastrophe | UWRF Library Link