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Circus Mishaps at Fargo


Barnum & Bailey’s circus pulled into Fargo on this date in 1907, and it would soon experience a menagerie of mishaps. Early in the morning, the circus arrived from Ortonville, Minnesota, in four trains. Twenty tents were pitched at the show grounds near present-day Fargo North High School. The big top was 643 feet high and held 15,000 people. Horses, seals, elephants and camels comprised the exciting show, along with clowns, ski-sailers and Isabelle Butler’s Dip of Death.

Unfortunately, excitement also came when a section of seating collapsed, hurling 300 people to the ground. Six people were slightly injured, including a Fargo judge who clung to a tent pole and scratched his chin as the seats fell. One woman’s spine was injured severely enough that she sued the circus. A railroad agent was also injured, spraining his ankle. He settled with the show people to keep the issue out of court.

That was not all, however. A camel died from pneumonia the evening of the show. Worth $2,500, the animal was buried in the Fargo city dump on the edge of town. Forum reporters speculated its carcass would be a mystery to those excavating the land a hundred years in the future … 2007.

This wasn’t the first time a visiting circus had encountered problems. An acrobat died from typhoid in 1905, and a camel was killed by an elephant in 1900. And in 1897, a circus was stranded in Fargo due to a lack of funds.

Despite all the extra excitement, Fargo continued to be a popular stop on the Midwestern show circuit … 100 years ago.

Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura


Fargo Public Library’s microfiche records of Fargo Forum & Daily Republican (ND).