Circus Horror

Today in History, July 6, 1944:

The Hartford, Connecticut Circus Fire.

During a performance by Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brother’s Circus, held in a massive tent, the tent suddenly caught fire. The tent had been treated with a mixture to make it waterproof that was also flammable, and the fire spread very quickly and within seconds large flaming sections were falling on the spectators below.

Many managed to escape by cutting holes in the sides of the tent, but when the supporting ropes burned through, the tent poles gave way and the entire structure came down. Between 167 and 169 people were killed and 700 injured, mostly children.

Rabies Vaccine

Today in History, July 6, 1885:9-year-old Joseph Meister had been badly mauled by a rabid dog, which meant he would almost certainly contract the horrible disease. Louis Pasteur had been experimenting on a vaccine for rabies using rabbits, and had tested the vaccine successfully on several dogs. Treating the boy put Pasteur at risk of prosecution should the treatment fail, as he was not a licensed physician. He chose to attempt to save Joseph. His vaccine was successful, saving the boy and countless others in the future. Meister would live to be 64 years old, taking his own life when the Nazis captured Paris in 1940, where he served as caretaker for the Pasteur estate.


Today in History, July 6: 1861 – Twenty-six year old Samuel Clemons, having followed his brother to the Nevada territory in search of adventure and riches, begins writing for Virginia City’s “Territorial Enterprise” newspaper under the pen name Mark Twain. He had searched for precious metals without success, and began writing to make money. He had spent time on the Mississippi River on river boats, which inspired his pen name. He went on to write in California, where he would begin his career in fiction. He would live to 1910.