Monday, 25 February 2013

Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. The Hammond train wreck

In the early morning hours of June 22, 1918, Alonzo Sargent was operating a Michigan Central Railroad troop train' pulling 20 empty Pullman cars. He was aware that his train was closely following a slower circus train. Sargent, had slept little if at all in the preceding twenty-four hours. and the effects of a lack of sleep, several heavy meals, some kidney pills, and the gentle rolling of his locomotive are thought to have caused him to fall asleep at the controls.
At approximately 4:00 am, he missed at least two automatic signals and warnings posted by a brakeman of the 26-car circus train, which had made an emergency stop to check a hot box on one of the flatcars. The second train plowed into the caboose and four rear wooden sleeping cars of the circus train at a rail crossing known as Ivanhoe Interlocking (5½ miles east of Hammond, Indiana) at an estimated speed of 35 miles per hour.
The circus train held 400 performers and roustabouts of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Most of the 86 who were killed in the train wreck perished in the first 35 seconds after the collision. Then, the wreckage caught on fire. Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the 'Great Dierckx Brothers', a strongman act, and Jennie Ward Todd of 'The Flying Wards'. There were also 127 injuries.
Following the wreck, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus cancel only two performances: the one in Hammond, Indiana and its next stop Monroe, Wisconsin. This was due partly by the assistance by many of its so-called competitors, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus lending needed equipment and performers so that the show could go on. The city of Hammond also joined in to help the surviving circus performers and workers. Many of the city’s residents and shopkeepers gave food and clothing.
Services were held five days after the train wreck. A 750 plot section of Woodlawn Cemetery (Forest Park, Illinois) is where a mass grave of 56 (or perhaps 61) employees of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were interred.The identity of many victims of the wreck was unknown. Most of the markers note “unidentified male” (or female). One is marked “Smiley,” another “Baldy,” and “4 Horse Driver.”

Statues of five elephants surround the Showmen’s Rest section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. The elephants each have a foot raised with a ball underneath, and the trunks lowered. (Raised trunks are a symbol of joy and excitement; lowered trunks symbolize mourning). The base of the large central elephant is inscribed with “Showmen’s League of America”. On the others are the words “Showmen’s Rest”. Some nearby residents say the sounds of ghostly elephants can be heard at night. However, as a note, there were no elephants that were buried there. And for those looking for an explanation for the sounds, Brookfield Zoo is only a few miles away.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


In 1894 The first ‘Wintercircus’, an indoor circus in Ghent the original winter circus was built, by architect Emile De Weerdt. In 1920 it sadly burnt down. In 1923 got rebuilt in concrete by architect Jules-Pascal Ledoux. The last performance was 28 may 1944, and then it stood empty for the first time. After that, an Renault garage -Ghislain Mahy - was housed here,using the circus to house his collection of old timers and classic cars where they added ramps for the cars to drive to the higher floors. they remained there until he left the ‘Wintercircus’ in 1978, when  The city of Ghent then wanted it empty again, to demolish it and build a cinema and other cultural buildings there. For some reason that never happend, so this building still is standing in downtown Ghent. In 2008 they even repaired the roof to prevent further decay.

Circus People

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Kursaal.

In 1894 by father and son Alfred and Bernard Wiltshire Tollhurst opened 4 acres of land (purchased the previous year), as the 'Marine Park and Gardens'. In 1901, they opened a grand entrance pavilion, called the Kursaal, designed by Campbell Sherrin, containing a circus, ballroom, arcade, dining hall and billiard room.

On 24th July 1901, the Kursaal Funfair in Southend-On-Sea. 27 acres of wasteland had been turned into what is believed to be the world's first theme park, even pre-dating New York's Coney Island. The funfair comprised various rides and sideshows such as a man known as "Togo, the Arizona snake handler", and even had a Freak Show. Some years later a small zoo was added. It boasted the world's first ever female Wall Of Death motorbike rider. During the 1930s George "Tornado" Smith rode around the Wall Of Death, with a lioness accompanying him on his motorbike. 

Part of the Kursaal was under cover, and the roof was crowned by a large and very distinctive silver dome; this dome quickly and affectionately earned the Kursaal the nickname of "By The Dome It's Known", or "the Dome". Inside the was a huge ballroom where regular dances were held and bands would play live. Off to the side of the silver dome was the Kursaal arcade, in which were a couple of rides and lots of side stalls, such as rifle ranges, skittles games, fortune tellers. 

During World War II, the fairground part of the Kursaal was closed to the public and used to temporarily house soldiers returning from battle, though the dome remained open so that the visiting big bands could still provide the entertainment for dances. Once the war had ended, the Kursaal was then re-opened to the public, and entered into what for most local people and day trippers from East London, was its absolute heyday - the 1940s, through to the early 1960s. 

There was a large variety of rides in the Kursaal:
Harton Scenic Railway
Switchback Railway 1st Water Chute
2nd Water Chute
Toboggan Slide
The Mont Blanc
Laff In The Dark
Aerial Flight
Figure Eight
River Caves Joy Wheel Bowl Slide Airsport
Miniature Railway The Whip
The Tumblers
Never Stop Railway
Wall Of Death
Midget Mansion
Caterpillar Jolly Tubes
Dive Bomber
Noahs Ark
Ghost Train
Mountain Dipper
The Whirlwind Racer
There were also plenty of other features such as the above-mentioned rifle ranges, coconut shies. 

The Kursaal even had its own train, known as the Kursaal Flyer, and this was used every year in the Southend carnival as one of the floats. 

During the 1950's the the ball room, each Friday and Saturday night was open till late with either a night of dancing or roller skating. The roof was filled with balloons and during the night the ballon net was released on to the dance floor. At the end of the night there would be a row of coaches and cars outside to take people home, weather it be to London or chelmsford.

In the late 1950s an accident accrued on the tubs which resulted in the death of a man, and the one of the tubs being derailed and another being trapped. 

As the 1960s progressed, the Kursaal began to fall into decline in popularity. Instead of spending their holidays at British seaside resorts, people began to go on Mediterranean package holidays in their droves. Though the Kursaal still did have visitors, fewer people thought of a day trip to Southend as a good thing to do; therefore, more use was made of the ballroom inside of the dome - wrestling matches would be held on a weekly basis, and a small piece of filming for the 1960s cult TV programme "The Prisoner" was made inside of the fairground. As we moved into the late 1960s and all through the 1970s, the Kursaal became a popular venue for rock bands to perform live concerts - Status Quo there in 1970s for three days. 

The decline continued though, and by the time the 1980s were upon us, the visitors had dwindled down to a level where it was no longer considered profitable to keep the fairground open - so, very sadly it closed. 

A decision was made to turn the fairground part of the Kursaal into a housing estate, and the bulldozers moved in. The dome of the Kursaal remains though, and back in the 1990s an attempt was made to revamp the inside and once again make it one of Southend's major attractions. Nowadays, the inside of the Kursaal dome boasts the Rendezvous casino, a restaurant, a bowling alley and a couple of bars. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Project Tinafan

Project Tinafan

#tomhinddleston #Tom_UnicefUk
I have been following The UNICEF blog of Tom Hinddleston, with the amazing work that they do.
Here is a small extract from Tom Hinddleston’s blog:
“Before we set off on the road to visit these rural communities, we stop off to visit Project Tinafan. We drive past football pitches, past a blurred quilt of football club colours from all around the world, but we drive past the football. We are here to watch the circus. Tinafan is a project designed to develop the capacities and social/economic inclusion of children who may have dropped out of school, and depend on their livelihood on meagre income from unskilled labour. Tinafan uses training in the circus arts to strengthen their confidence, bolster their interpersonal skills, and help them trust each other. All of this sounds a little dry. As far as I can see, as soon as I open the car door, these children are dancing. I hear pounding drums. I see running, jumping, smiling, free-wheeling, cart-wheeling energy rushing towards me. I see fit, strong, smiling, athletes, fit to burst. The thoughtfulness brought on by what I had seen at Donka was instantly dispelled by the sheer, thrilling, joy radiating from these children. We were invited inside the gym where they train to watch a show. A band was already whipping the crowd into a frenzy, while activity billowed behind a curtain. The band consisted of at least five drummers and two xylophones and little else. Their rhythm was propulsive and electric. I’m not sure what my expectations were, but they were entirely blown out of the water. I must be as honest as I can: these children are world-class performers of astonishing athleticism and grace. The best among them, I later learned, have toured the world with circus troupes. Their performance was explosive and dizzying – acrobatics, human pyramids, trampolining, contortionists – a display of strength, flexibility and precision on a par with, if not beyond, the very best physical performances I have seen in ballet, contemporary dance, or Cirque du Soleil. They performed with raw joy. Their trainer “Prince” also teaches them how to paint, emphasising to me that how important it is for his students to understand the power of passion and positivity in creativity after the human body passes its peak.”

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Sells Floto Circus

The Sells Floto Circus was a combination of the Floto Dog & Pony Show and the Sells Brothers Circus that toured with sideshow acts in the United States during the early 1900s.They had eighteen full grown lions and lionesses traveling with them. Including two of the best black mane Nubian male lions in the world. They were a very rare breed displayed in the show. The lions were on parade at the Tucson location and seen in the two mile street circus parade.