Detroit typhoid epidemic, 1934. We recently discovered that my husband’s uncle was the victim of an outbreak of typhoid among the members of the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus during the summer of 1934 in Detroit. I am trying to find out how many circus folk died during this epidemic. He was a “property man” and was also only 21 years old.

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Al Stencel, the president of CHS, informs me that you are seeking some information concerning the 1934 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus typhoid epidemic. I have been researching the 1934 circus typhoid epidemic for over a decade and with the collaboration of Claude Bordez (co-author) writing a book on what happened.
At present we are still searching for information relating to the RBBB incident. Sam Gumbertz, the general manager, minimized the actual typhoid incident and declared in the Billboard that some 50 people where feeling some discomfort because of the heat wave (around 106 F). Meanwhile, near the end of July over 77 people where sent to the Harper Hospital. Among the more severe case there is 7 confirmed victims.

1-Sylvester Bossaro, (44) property man. Died August 1 in Detroit.
2-Robert Webster, ( ) property man. Died August 6 in Detroit.
3-George Craig, (28) train crew. Died August 12 in Detroit.
4-Lewis Kent, (27) Died August 12 in Detroit.
5-Frank Meeker, ( ) Died August 15 in Detroit.
6-James Glecot, (24) Died August 18 in Detroit.
7-Earl Michael,Jr. (23) ticket taker. Died August 18 in Detroit.

The rumor on the show was that 149 people died. Alva Johnson,Jr. (84), who was working on RBBB in 1934, revealed those figures based on the fact that none returned. However, my investigation concluded that the reason so many employee failed to return to the circus was because anybody that handle food could not return. In researching the typhoid virus it is estimated that 10% of victims died (there was no antibiotics in 1934) and 5% of survivors where carriers.
Please send me confirmation that your husban’s uncle was named Robert Webster, otherwise I will add his name to an already sordid list. Also if you have any information concerning the circus typhoid incident I would appreciate that you share it with me. Meanwhile, any other things you would like to know concerning the 1934 RBBB circus typhoid epidemic just ask. Regards, Giovanni Iuliani, circusarchives@videotron.ca.

After sending you a list of people who where victims of the typhoid epidemic I re-read your question:”How many people died during the typhoid epidemic?” The answer is not 7 but rather 8 because during the time it ran it’s course (8 weeks) another person on the RBBB show was murdered.

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