Everyone loves a day at the circus – and the 7,000 people who showed for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus on July 6, 1944 were ready for an amazing show. The town of Hartford, Connecticut, was playing host to the famous circus, and people of all ages were gathering beneath the tent to get out of the heat and enjoy the performances and human circus attractions.
Sadly, the day did not go according to plan. In the official reports, the Hartford circus fire claimed a total of 167 lives, most of them children. A small fire broke out near the edge of the tent; the canvas roof was quickly engulfed in flames; and it all went down in under 10 minutes.
Investigations tried to pinpoint a cause and determine who was responsible, but it was all too late for the Hartford circus fire victims and their loved ones. They spent the next days searching through rows of bodies in a makeshift morgue, some of which were never positively identified.
Pictures of the Hartford circus fire, as well as those of "Little Miss 1565" and "sad clown" Emmett Kelly carrying water in a futile attempt to stop the blaze, created a tragically unforgettable view of one of the worst tragedies in performing arts history – "The Day the Clowns Cried."