Circus catches fire in Brazil - HISTORY
Year
1961

Circus catches fire in Brazil

On this day in 1961, a fire at a circus in Brazil kills more than 300 people and severely burns hundreds more. The cause of the fire was never conclusively determined but it may have been the result of sparks from a train passing nearby.

Christmas week was just beginning, the children had just begun their winter vacations, and spirits were high for the 2,500 in attendance at the Gran Circo Norte Americano, the Brazilian version of America’s Ringling Brothers. The large blue-and-white tent was set up across the bay from Rio de Janeiro and was filled to capacity. All seemed to be proceeding as planned when disaster struck suddenly.

Antonietta Estavanovich, a trapeze artist, was the first to see the flames. From her high perch, she could see the roof of the tent beginning to burn. As the crowd became aware of the fire, pandemonium ensued and people were trampled as they tried to exit. In one reported instance, a Boy Scout attending the circus pulled out a knife, cut a hole in the tent and managed to get his family out safely. Hundreds of others, though, were not so lucky–323 people, many of them children, died in the fire. At least 500 more people were seriously injured, from burns, smoke inhalation and trampling.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“Squeaky” Fromme sentenced to life

A federal jury in Sacramento, California, sentences Lynette Alice Fromme, also known as “Squeaky” Fromme, to life in prison for her attempted assassination of President Gerald R. Ford.On September 5, a Secret Service agent wrested a semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol from Fromme, ...read more

First airplane flies

Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its ...read more

Ford Madox Ford is born

Ford Madox Ford, a writer, editor, and member of the so-called Lost Generation who served on the Western Front during the Great War, is born Ford Hermann Hueffer on this day in 1873. Hueffer (he would change his name to Ford Madox Ford in 1919) had already published his first ...read more

Cambodian forces under heavy pressure

Cambodian government positions in Prak Ham, 40 miles north of Phnom Penh, and the 4,000-man base at Taing Kauk are the targets of continuous heavy bombardment by communist forces.The communist Khmer Rouge and their North Vietnamese allies were trying to encircle the capital ...read more

Terrell Owens makes record-breaking 20 catches

On December 17, 2000, during a 17-0 victory by the San Francisco 49ers over the Chicago Bears, San Francisco’s wide receiver Terrell Owens sets a new league record of 20 catches in a single game.Drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft, Owens was thrilled to ...read more

“Silver Dollar” Tabor born in Denver

On this day, Rosemary “Silver Dollar” Tabor, the second daughter of Horace and Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, is born. The Tabors were one of Colorado’s wealthiest families of the time.Silver’s mother, Elizabeth Doe, came west from Wisconsin with her husband, Harvey, in 1877; the ...read more

A federal court puts its stamp on hip-hop

Gilbert O'Sullivan, an Irishman who favored bowl haircuts, suspenders and pants that ended at the knee is mainly remembered as the "one-hit wonder" behind the melancholy early 1970s hit "Alone Again, Naturally." But on December 17, 1991, he earned a larger place in music history ...read more

A Christmas Carol is published

On this day in 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published.Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a ...read more

“Operation Iceman” nabs the culprit

Richard Kuklinski, a suspect in several murders, is arrested by undercover agents at a truck stop off the New Jersey Turnpike, marking the culmination of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ “Operation Iceman.” Kuklinski had sealed his fate when he showed operative ...read more

Grant expels the Jews from his department

On this day in 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lashes out at at Jewish cotton speculators, who he believed were the driving force behind the black market for cotton, and issues an order expellingall Jewish people from his military district, which encompassed parts of ...read more