Ringling Brother's Circus Monument
The weather was bad on the morning of June 10, 1897; rainy,
with thunderstorms approaching. But there was work to be done.
The Ringling Brother's Circus, one of many circuses that
regularly crossed the countryside by train, was setting up for a show that
evening in Wahpeton.
As circus workers raised the tent, a clap of
thunder and a bolt of lightening pierced the sky.
The Wahpeton Times reported in its June 10, 1897, issue:
"While Ringling Bros.' canvas force where at work putting up the main tent
this morning, a thunder shower camp up and a shock of lightening struck one
of the main poles, killed two men outright, and severely stunned three
"A dozen other employees and performers were knocked
unconscious to the ground," wrote Lowell Torgerson in a historical account
of the tragedy. "Other people affected by the lightening bolt were revived
by circus employees who tore off the shoes of those that were unconscious
and pounded the bottom of their feet and the palms of their hands."
The two victims, Charles Smith and Charles Walters, were
buried in a pauper's cemetery just south of town. A third man died from his
injuries a year later.
A monument marks the graves of Smith and Walters. It's an
exact replica of the stricken post, right down to the rope and the chain
that the men were using to hoist the big top.
The monument is in Riverside Cemetery,
just south of
Old U.S. Highway 81.