The Day the Clowns Cried
July 6, 1944
The worst tragedy in American circus history occurs when the big top tent at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus catches fire during a performance to a crowd of over 6,000. Many of the 168 deaths and over 700 injuries were caused by trampling as people stampeded out the exits. Arson was suspected as the cause, but the culprit has never been determined. A photo was taken of the famous clown Emmett Kelly in sad tramp makeup holding a bucket of water, causing the event became known as “The Day the Clowns Cried.”
Thirteen-year-old future actor Charles Nelson Reilly was one of the survivors.