‘Finale of horror’: Remembering the 1968 circus tent collapse at Cayuga County’s Emerson Park

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of an infamous circus tent collapse in Cayuga County that left more than 100 injured but miraculously killed no one.

On July 9, 1968, the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus was finishing its second performance of the day as a rainstorm raged outside the canvas tent set up at Emerson Park. As workers prepared for the trapeze act, gusts of wind lifted the quarter poles that hold the tent up into the air, and the tent came crashing down.

The collapse made national news, as newspapers at least as far away as Indiana ran stories on the event with headlines like “Show ends in finale of horror.”

Numerous witnesses at the time told The Citizen-Advertiser, as The Citizen was then known, that the tent billowed and crashed to the ground almost instantaneously, too quick even for the 2,000 spectators to panic.

“I was just wiping my brow after setting up the net for the trapeze act when I saw a quarter pole lift away from the ground,” one circus worker said. “I walked toward it nice and slow so nobody’d panic. Then I saw it lift almost three feet and start to swing out toward the crowd. I started to run, grabbed it, but it was too late.”

The Citizen:
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