Belleville, OH Tornado Strikes Circus Menagerie, Oct 1870



From the Columbus (Ohio) State Journal Oct. 29.
The details in regard to the tornado which visited Belleville, in this State, on the 21st inst., briefly alluded to in the telegraphic news a few days since, but which have never yet been fully described, are interesting in some particulars, from the novelty of the circumstances and the peculiar conditions under which the tempest found an outlet for its fury. On that day VAN AMBURG'S MENAGERIE happened to be in the village, and in the evening an audience os some thousands of people gathered from many miles around, and assembled to see the animals and to witness the performances advertised in connection therewith, consisting of feats of trained animals, there being no circus attached to the exhibition. Now to understand what follows it should be understood that VAN AMBURG'S tent is not like a circus tent, a circular wigwam affair with a single centre-pole, but an immense oblong pavilion, equal in length to six circus tents joined side by side and supported by six centre-poles, like the six masts of the Great Eastern steam-ship, and innumerable smaller poles, all of which are securely fastened by guy-ropes extended to stakes driven deeply in the ground. Within this pavilion, extending upon the right from the entrance, stood the cage of the great eland and the rhinoceros, a couple of camels, tethered, and the elephants Tippoo Saib and Harribal, Jr. Upon the opposite side were the seats for the audience, rising in tiers from the ground to the height of the tent, as is common in all traveling exhibitions. At the moment when the whirlwind struck the tent the spectators were all seated, and in the vacant space in the centre of the ground the performers attached to the menagerie, had just commenced the exhibition of feats by some of the dogs and ponies belonging to the establishment. There was no wind stirring, nor the slightest incidation of any unusual agitation of the elements.
Outside the tent, an eye-witness informs us, five minutes before the disaster the stars were shining brightly, and scarcely a breath of air was moving. Suddenly, miles away in the distance, was seen a huge black cloud, reaching apparently from the heavens to the earth, advancing with lightning-like rapidity, driving tremendous whirls of dust before it directly toward the tent in which these unsuspicious people were so pleasantly enjoying themselves. The experienced managers saw the danger, and instantly a crowd of the men were sent inside to lower the top of the tent so as to offer less surface to the approaching storm. But, incredible as it may appear, before the audience had scarcely noticed the unusual movements of these men, the tornado had taken the immense tent, with its six ponderous masts, clear and clean over their heads, rising like a balloon, and falling directly afterward in the adjacent fields, a mixed and tangled mass of cloth, lumber and cordage, leaving the spectators sitting bewildered in the open air. At the same moment many of the cages were overturned -- among them the dens of lions and leopards in the centre, which in the fall crushed LANGWORTHY, the "Lion King," under them, so that he was picked up for dead. The large elephant broke loose and started for the open fields. All this before the people on the seats really comprehended what had happened. The next instant it seemed as if the fountains of the deep had overflowed, so heavily came the rain. The reader can easily imagine the scene of terror which ensued. The beasts howling; women and children shrieking; the rain pouring in torrents; the night pitchy black; a mass of terrified humanity, surrounded by howling animals frantic with excitement, and every one a prey to the direst apprehensions of still more tangible horrors. But so judicious were the measures taken by the managers, that of all these terrified and bewildered people, none were seriously injured except a couple of children, who, being seated high, had been struck by some of the ropes or blocks as the tent had flown over their heads. Torches were soon produced, order restored, and in an hour the men were busily employed in repairing the damage to the tent, so that on the following day the Company exhibited as advertised in the town of Mount Vernon, many miles distant.

The New York Times New York 1870-11-04