With all the death defying stunts and fate tempting feats going on at the circus, there's bound to be an accident or 10. 


Massarti, The Lion Tamer


By the time Thomas MacCarte, or Massarti as was his stage name, entered his final lions' den in 1872, he had already lost one arm as a tamer. As he approached the lions in the Manders' Menagerie den in Bolton, England on January 3, he slipped. One animal named Tyrant immediately attacked and set his teeth into the man's armless shoulder. A second lion followed. Though Massarti continued to call for help, a frenzied crowd prevented it from arriving. Soon a third animal pounced on the man, followed by a fourth which was successful in scalping him. Still MacCarte remained alive long enough to be carried to the infirmary once the lions were removed. He died soon after. 

Fred Lazelle And Billy Millson, Trapeze Artists

Library of Congress

The same year Massarti, the Lion Tamer, was mauled, a second circus accident took place in St. Louis, Missouri. Fred Lazelle and Billy Millson, two famous trapeze performers, fell from their trapeze after the rig's rope grew loose. As they landed, the pair sacked George North, a tumbler who was performing underneath. Though all three were injured from the fall, North sustained the most severe injuries.


Wallace Brothers Circus Train Crash


In 1903, two Wallace Brothers trains crashed in a head on collision responsible for the death of 30 people, an Arabian horse, three camels, one Great Dane and an elephant named Maud. An additional 27 people were injured. As both trains reached a rail yard in Durand, Michigan, the first train stopped in anticipation of the crash. The other train's engineer saw the signal light to stop, but was unable to after his brakes failed.

Mary, The Executed Elephant


On September 11, 1916, a five-ton Asian elephant named Mary trampled assistant elephant trainer Red Eldridge during a Sparks World Famous Shows circus parade. To this day, it's not clear what happened. One account has Eldridge prodding Mary behind the ear as she reached down for a watermelon rind. The enraged elephant is said to have picked the trainer up 10 feet in the air before dashing him on the ground, trampling him, and tossing him into the onlooking crowd. 

Though the accident was tragic in its own right, that's not where this story ends. Almost immediately following Eldridge's death, the assembled circus goers began to chant "Kill the elephant!" A local blacksmith attempted to, shooting five rounds at the animal to little effect. The next day, as 250,000 townspeople looked on, Mary was hung from an industrial crane. After her death, a veterinarian diagnosed the elephant with a severely infected tooth in precisely the spot she was rumored to have been prodded.

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train Crash

Wikimedia Commons

In 1918, a second train crash took place. On June 22, engineer Alonzo Sargent fell asleep at the wheel of an empty train, causing him to miss two lights signaling a second train up ahead. Near 4 a.m., Sargent's train plowed into the 26-car Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train stopped five miles east of Hammond, Indiana. Eighty-six people were killed in the first 35 seconds of the crash before the debris caught on fire. 


The Cleveland Circus Fire


In 1942, a fire broke out near the menagerie tent at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at its stop in Cleveland. Spectators and circus workers easily escaped the blaze as it spread, but more than 100 lions, tigers, camels, zebras and other animals became trapped and badly burned. At least nine cages caught fire, severely injuring 26 animals that police put down using machine guns. 

The Hartford Circus Fire


On July 6, 1944 — the "day the clowns cried" — a small fire broke out near the southwest side of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Big Top tent in Hartford, Connecticut. The canvas tent was extremely flammable after being waterproofed with paraffin wax and gasoline and the blaze grew quickly. In the ensuing panic, many of the performance's 7,000 spectators were trampled or asphyxiated trying to reach exits blocked by animal chutes. Others burned in the fire or died from smoke inhalation. In total, more than 165 people were killed. 700 more were injured. 

The Flying Wallendas

Wikimedia Commons

The Flying Wallendas were an old circus family known for their innovative tightrope acts in the first half of the 20th century. In 1962, an accident occurred while the group was performing its famous seven person pyramid act that sent three members crashing to the ground. Karl Wallenda's son-in law and nephew were both killed, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down. Tragedy didn't stop there for the family. In 1963, Wallenda's sister-in-law fell to her death and in 1977, a second son-in-law was killed after touching an electric wire while holding metal. Wallenda himself died in 1978 while walking a ten story wire between two towers in Puerto Rico. 


Dessi Espana, The Flying Acrobat


In 2004, Bulgarian-American circus performer Dessi Espana fell thirty feet head-first onto a concrete floor after the chiffon scarves that held her in the air failed. Espana later died from injuries sustained on impact.

Rhode Island Carabiner Malfunction

Darren Mccollester/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Last year, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey had another accident involving acrobats. This time, a carabiner capable of carrying 10,000 pounds of weight malfunctioned causing eight performers to fall 25 to 40 feet to the ground. All of the entertainers survived the event, but two were critically injured.