20 Awful Circus Accidents To Shock You For Life!

Posted by , Updated on September 29, 2023


The Siegfried & Roy Tiger Attack

In addition to being one half of the incredibly popular Siegfried & Roy performing duo, Roy Horn was nothing if not a lover of dangerous and exotic animals. He and his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, created one of the most famous shows in Vegas history in which they combined Roy’s animal handling with Siegfried’s magicianship.

For many years and over 30,000 performances, the duo never had a single mistake involving the the lions, tigers, elephants, or other creatures used in their acts. Unfortunately this all changed in the worst possible way on October 3rd, 2003 when Roy’s own birthday celebration ended in tragedy.

The show went as planned until Roy led out one of the act’s biggest attractions; the 380 pound white Bengal tiger named Mantacore. Upset by something, the massive cat broke his routine and became aggressive towards his master. In the blink of an eye Roy found himself being dragged off stage with Mantacore’s teeth around his neck. He was rushed to the hospital and managed to survive despite his severe loss of blood, however Roy was never quite the same and the incident ended his stage career forever.


Human Chandelier Disaster

The Ringling Bros. Circus was been one of the most widely celebrated performances in circus history from its founding in 1872 until its closure in 2017. Over its nearly century and a half long run featuring hundreds if not thousands of death-defying stunts, the circus certainly saw its fair share of accidents. One of the most recent and scariest of these accidents occurred on May 4th of 2014.

During a show in Providence, Rhode Island, a certain act known as the “Human Chandelier,” in which 8 women suspended by their hair twirled around while hanging 35 feet from the ground, malfunctioned when a steel fastener holding the performers aloft snapped and sent them plummeting to the floor. 9 women were rushed to the hospital and left in critical condition, one of which was a dancer on the ground when the chandelier fell. Luckily all of the performers survived, and a few were even able to return to work later that year.


The First Human Cannonball

Widely known by her performance name of Zazel, Rossa Matilda Richter was a famous circus performer during the late 19th century best known for pioneering the infamous human cannonball trick. In this act, Zazel would climb into a spring-loaded cannon and be shot through the air and into a safety net sometimes as far as 70 feet away.

Richter first performed this daredevil stunt at the age of 14, becoming the first in the world to do so. She accumulated a number of injuries over the course of her circus career, however the worst of which ended up not being related to her human cannonball act at all.

In 1891 while performing a show in New Mexico, Richter was thrown from a collapsing support pole from 40 feet in the air, missing the safety net and landing beneath one of the falling metal poles. The crowd panicked, with many describing the accident as horrifying to witness. Richter spent the next many months at a hospital in a full body cast. She had survived, but a broken back prevented her from ever returning to the circus.


Massarti the Lion Tamer

Thomas Macarte was one of the most famous and accomplished lion tamers of the 19th century when he met his untimely end in front of more than 500 people in Bolton, Lancashire. His performance, during which he went by the title of Massarti, involved him being trapped in a cage with 5 fully grown lions and leading them from one side to the other in an act known as “lion hunting”.

Although Macarte had practiced the act countless times, he was always a nervous performer, and on January 3rd of 1872 he decided to have a few drinks before his show to help him steel his nerves. Whether or not it was this decision that cost him his life can’t be known, but what is certain is that around half way through his performance things suddenly took a very bad turn.

Starting with a single aggressive lion, it only took seconds for the rest of the big cats to join in,  pouncing on Macarte and tearing into any exposed flesh they could. Onlookers watched in terror as other circus employees attempted to get the vicious animals away from their screaming tamer. By the time they did manage to save him it was too late; the man had lacerations covering his entire body and the flesh had been torn to the bone on his legs, hips, and chest. Macarte remained conscious until the removed him from the cage, but passed away from his injuries before he could make it to the hospital.


Eva Garcia


Cleveland Circus Fire


The St Louis Trapeze Accident


Tyke the Elephant


The Wallace Brothers Circus Train Disaster


Otto Kline


Hartford Circus Fire


Yann Arnaud


Wilson Gomes Barreto


The Flying Wallendas


Bangalore circus fire


1918 Circus Train Wreck


Dessi Espana


Mary the Elephant


Sarah Guyard-Guillot


Niterói Circus Fire