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Historic Unedited Photos They Don’t Want You To See
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Entertainment
Historic Unedited Photos They Don’t Want You To See
Publication: Historical History.
Posted by
760a631d0dea2ae92cb6e9f7b157b927
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The Day the Clowns Cried

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Where:
Hartford, Connecticut
When:
1944-07-06
Summary:
A fire at an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus killed 167 people and injured 700. Pictured here is clown carrying a bucket of water toward the blaze

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The Day the Clowns Cried



  Where:
Hartford, Connecticut

  When:
1944-07-06

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or read more about below

The idea of the circus is something that’s around 250 years old, dating back to the times of Philip Astley in the 18th century that brought together performers such as acrobats, jugglers and clowns to entertain large crowds of people. While the circus is much different these days (and a bit more rare) than it used to be, we all know what a circus is, and probably have childhood memories of attending one, whether clowns scare you or not (thanks Stephen King).Advertisements:


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Perhaps the most well known traveling circus of all-time is the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that toured from April 1871 all the way up until its last show in May 2017. It was a sad day on May 21, 2017 when the trains that once belonged to the famous circus tour were auctioned off to signal the end of the company, but it might not have been the saddest day in the company’s history.

During World War II, the Ringling Bros. Circus was instrumental in helping to entertain those that were still at home in the United States, bringing joy to people when it was needed the most. However, tragedy would occur on July 6, 1944 in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Nearly 8,000 people had made their way to the circus after a long delay from a train malfunction that caused them the circus to run late.

The day before, there had been two shows scheduled, but the delay meant that only one could be performed in the evening. To make it up to spectators, Ringling Bros. decided to have the second show on July 6 as they considered a full cancellation of a show to be bad luck. Things seemed to be going smoothly during this rescheduled show, but there was trouble brewing in one part of the big top.

After the lions had performed in the circle, a small fire broke out along the southwest part of the tent. Nobody seemed to notice at first, until Merle Evans, the longtime band director, saw the flames and ordered that the band play “The Stars and Stripes Forever” during an acrobat performance. To the audience, that didn’t mean much, but performers knew that the song was a signal that there was something immediately wrong.

The fire caused the power inside of the big top to be lost, meaning that the microphones weren’t working. Fred Bradna was the ringmaster at the time and was trying to direct the audience out of the tent in an orderly manner, but without the microphone, that proved to be impossible. People were pushing one another trying to get out of the tent, powering their way through ushers and causing a logjam at the exits.

The image that you see here includes several people trying to put the fire out with buckets of water, while watching the blaze that claimed the massive circus tent. This includes Emmett Kelly (middle). Because of this image, July 6, 1944 was dubbed “the day the clowns died.” It’s estimated that just under 170 people had perished in the fire, while more than 700 were injured due to either trampling from the crowd or the fire itself. Others had become injured or killed when the tent collapsed several minutes after the fire started.

To this day, the exact cause of the fire still isn’t concretely known. At first, some thought that it might have been a simple accident involving a discarded cigarette that landed on the edge of the wax tent. Others thought that it might have been an act of arson, with Robert Dale Segee saying that he set the fire years afterward. Segee had been arrested for other crimes of arson, but didn’t get charged for the Hartford blaze and later said that it wasn’t him that started the fire.

The executives of the Ringling Bros. Circus had admitted to being financially responsible just weeks after the blaze had occurred, paying out a whopping $5 million to the victims and their families. The company wasn’t making a profit for a while, as any dollar that they made had to go toward this victims fund. Eventually, four out of the five main executives were put into prison for involuntary manslaughter, but didn’t serve much time as they were pardoned.

It was a day that’s still talked about in the city of Hartford, and the picture will last forever. However, it’s not something that Emmett Kelly wanted to talk about afterward. His grandson, Joey, told reporters that “Because of the heartbreak, my grandfather rarely spoke of the fire to anyone other than family.”

The Ringling Bros. Circus would eventually return to Hartford, though it took many years. The company even invited some of the survivors to attend the show, this time at the XL Center as the company had abandoned tents in favor of basketball or hockey arenas just a few years after the Hartford isaster. A memorial was also built in the spot where the fire broke out, being established in 2004. One of the final shows that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey put on was on April 30, 2017…and it happened to be in Hartford, Connecticut.

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