Bandwagon, August, 1952. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included. The Circus Historical Society does not guarantee the accuracy of information contained in the information in these online articles. Information should always be checked with additional sources.
Pinito Del Oro, star of Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus was uninjured when her rigging broke, at Indianapolis during the matinee on Sunday, Aug. 10. A two-inch rope supporting her trapeze broke near the end of the act. The rigging swung out to the side, and Miss Del Oro was able to grab the rope on the other side and slide to the ground safely. Her fall was checked only 8 feet from the ground. She suffered minor rope burns on her hands and legs and possibly jangled nerves.
At one time, in Madrid, the rope broke while Miss Del Oro was doing her head stand, but her fall was broken by her husband, Juan Funte, who always stands under her during the act, so that he may break a fall if one comes. Pinito Del Oro "little pine tree of gold" has been soloing since she was only 12 years of age. She comes from the Canary Islands.
A grape vineyard now flourishes on what was once the site of Cole Brothers Circus at Harborcreek, Pa., eight miles east of Erie, Pa.
It was on September 28, 1909 that the No. 1 Advertising Car arrived at winter quarters, and the crew felt highly elated over their accomplishments for the season, having posted 582,000 sheets of paper; used 278 barrels of flour; 75,000 lithographs hung in windows, and one million pieces of advertising distributed. John Feltus established a record when he hung 1,496 sheets; James Handle and Harry Snyder, on a double route, hung 2,906 sheets.
Martin J. Downs was proprietor of the show; George E. Robertson, contracting agent; Ed C. Knupp, general agent, and E. E. Goodell, superintendent.
There was considerable activity at winter quarters following the arrival of the advertising car. Hay and grain was stored for the winter, and to guard against any damage by leaking roof, a crew of men were engaged in putting a coat of tar and sand on the roof.
That was the status of things on Saturday morning, October 9, 1909. A crew of men were applying tar to the roof, heating the material in the back room of the barn and hauling the melted pitch to the roof through a trap door. Suddenly dense clouds of smoke emanated through the trap door and the men rushed from the roof, finding safety by leaping into a pile of sand that was used in covering the tar. In some manner the kettle of tar had become ignited or boiled over, and within minutes the interior of the building was a mass of flames.
The circus train was not due to arrive until Monday, but there were two wagons valued at $2,500 each, and four wagons of lesser value, and a large stock of advertising matter and the winter's supply of hay and grain consigned to the flames.
E. E. Goodell, superintendent, had just arrived at Harborcreek, completing arrangements for wintering the show. At the time the fire broke out he was in a barber shop at Erie. Learning of the fire he was taken to the scene by a friend in one of those contraptions referred to facetiously as "gasoline buggies." He immediately tried to rent barn space for the animals pending final determination of the wintering problem, but he was unable to locate a basement barn for the elephants, no ordinary barn floor being strong enough to hold them. Property owners in the vicinity quickly boosted their rental price to such a figure that it was decided to look elsewhere for accommodations as soon as possible.
With the arrival of the circus train on Monday, tents were erected to house much of the equipment. In the meantime a committee from the Corry (Pa.) Fair and Driving Park Association called upon Goodell, and their proposition of renting the Corry fair grounds for the winter was accepted, and the show property and animals moved to that town, 36 miles from Erie.
It is said that bad luck never strikes singly, and this held true in this case. M. J. Downs, the owner, was in a Toronto, Canada, hospital suffering blood poisoning. The previous summer, while at Grove City, Pa., he was kicked by a horse. Blood poisoning developed and he was taken to his home in Toronto, and about a month prior to the fire his left leg was amputated in the hope that this would check the spread of the poisoning and save his life, This measure failed to save his life, however, and he passed away on October 19th, and his remains were interred at Toronto. He left a widow and one son, Martin.
When his will was admitted to probate the estate was valued at $100,448.43; the circus property at Corry being valued at $22,000, the balance of the estate comprising cash, stocks and real estate. Mrs. Margaret Downs, the widow, received $15,000; Patrick Downs, father of the deceased, $12,000; the remainder of the estate, after payment of other small legacies, went to the testator's son, James Martin Downs.
The winter quarters destroyed by fire were built by Frank J. Walker, of the Erie Lithograph Company, for the circus at a cost of $11,000. It was planned to rebuild and have the show maintain its winter quarters at Harborcreek, but following the death of Mr. Downs the plan was abandoned.
Several thousand persons were thrown into weak panic shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday at the King Brothers circus at Scarano Field when high winds, thunder and rain suddenly swooped down from the west.
The main tent shook violently as the high velocity wind blew through the circus grounds.
As the rain began pelting down hard on the canvas roof, many started to dash for the exits, accompanied by hundreds of children attending the circus without benefit of parents or guardians.
Luckily, no one was injured. But for a few moments it appeared as if the near capacity audience was manufacturing a disaster.
With another act still to go, the ringmaster, watching large droves of people starting to leave, requested that they go carefully and orderly through the exits.
That about ended the show as for as the audience was concerned, according to police reports.
As the first to reach the exits were met by a heavy downpour, they added to the confusion by halting their dash, causing a severe jam of humanity at the outlets.
Main Feature Cancelled
The feature of the circus, Hugo Zacchini, the man who is shot from a cannon was yet to be staged, but the audience was no longer interested.
The main tent had been almost completely filled during the show, and the audience lost no time in streaming for the exits and their cars. By that time, the rain was driving down in earnest, and with the darkness and noise terrifying those inside and outside, police were hard put for about 20 minutes to maintain order.
Soon after the storm struck, a portion of a side-show tent came down in the intense wind. Police authorities said the tent was empty as is the usual procedure when the main show is in progress under the "big top."
"Nothing actually happened to the big tent," Police Sergeant Lewis V. Aloia said later. "Its just that some people began to panic at the wind and noise of the storm."
Some reports told of large clouds of dust driven by the wind previous to the rain striking. The clouds swirled fiercely for a few moments "like a tornado." This obviously added to the confusion for the few who led the audience of the big tent in rushing to get to their cars.
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Last modified December 2005.
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Last modified December 2005.