The Quick 10: 9 Circus Deaths (and one that never happened)

As far as dangerous professions go, "writer" is probably not very high on the list. Carpal tunnel, deteriorating eyesight, maybe paper cuts - sure. Being mauled by a lion or falling from the flying trapeze? Never a problem. These 10 circus performers can't say the same.

1. In 2004, a circus performer whose speciality was twirling on scarves 30 feet above the arena floor fell to her death when one of the scarves gave way. Dessi Espana was working without a net at a St. Paul, Minnesota show. She died later that night.

2. This one goes back a few years. In 1870, a traveling circus called the James Robinson & Co. Circus decided to drum up some publicity for their upcoming show in Middletown, Missouri, by having their band and some lions give a sneak peek performance during the parade through town. Despite being warned not to for multiple reasons, the band decided to sit on top of the lion cage during the parade. You can probably guess what happened - the roof of the cage couldn't support the 10 band members and they fell through. Seven of them were killed as horrified parade-goers watched.

3. Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the famous Flying Wallenda family, met his end during a death-defying high-wire act in 1978"¦ except it didn't actually defy death. The 73-year-old Wallenda was attempting to walk between two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was windier than normally recommended for such a stunt, but the Wallenda family has maintained that the death was due to misconnected guy ropes and not the wind.

4. "Massarti the Lion-Tamer," AKA Thomas Maccarte, entered the lions' den for the last time in 1873. One particular lion named Tyrant had been given him trouble and even bit him on the hand the same week. Maccarte slipped on something and fell to the floor of the den, which is when Tyrant saw his chance to attack. His attack seemed to incite at least three of the other lions into joining the melee; Maccarte's injuries were fatal. Horrifyingly, though, he didn't die instantly - he survived long enough to talk to his coworkers and request that no ambulance be called - he knew he was a goner. You can read the whole story, which is a bit graphic, here. It's really interesting to read such an old style of reporting, actually.

5. Just last year, a Russian bear on ice skates attacked two people during circus rehearsals in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek. One of them died and so did the bear, which was shot dead at the scene. It sounds like something straight out of a John Irving novel, I know, but it's true!

6. Karl wasn't the first Wallenda to die because of his career choice. In 1963, his sister-in-law, Yetta Wallenda (pictured) was performing a handstand at the top of pole 45 feet up when she lost her balance while adjusting a footstrap. She hit the floor face down and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
7. Sadly, just 18 months earlier, two other members of the Wallendas died and one was paralyzed for life. A human pyramid of seven people collapsed, killing two of them, including the pyramid's top, Dieter Schepp. It was his first time joining the Seven and he lost his balance.
8. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was hosting the James Hamid Circus in April of this year when tragedy struck: an elephant handler was trampled by an African elephant named Dumbo. It was thought that the elephant came into contact with electrical wires and was startled into action.
9. Apparently there's a clown serial killer out there, sort of the opposite of John Wayne Gacy: a person who actually targets clowns. In 2007, an attacker jumped into the arena of a circus in Cucuta, Columbia, and shot a clown in the head in front of the audience. It took some time for the audience to realize it wasn't part of the act. It was discovered shortly thereafter that the assailant had also killed a clown standing next to the ticket booth. Just the year before, another circus clown named Pepe was shot and killed.

10. Have you heard the one about the dwarf who bounced the wrong way off of a trampoline, right into the mouth of Hilda the Hippo? Although she was a vegetarian, her gag reflex caused her to swallow and poor Od the dwarf died. It was even reported in some newspapers. Never happened, says Snopes.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



More from mental floss studios