San Diego Makes Circus Toe the Mark
On Sept. 15, 1948. on the second night of a two-day performance in San Diego, the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus allowed an estimated 1500 persons in excess of their seating capacity to enter their big tent, according to a report by S. O. Roppe. Fire Marshal of the San Diego Fire Department.
Persons were sitting in the aisles and exits as well as in front of the grandstand and they were also standing in the aisles and exits. In addition, the exits were blocked by canvas drops and one main exit was blocked by a motor vehicle.
These violations were not only observed and reported by members of the Fire Department and Fire Marshal’s office, but the standees and others blocking the aisles and exits were photographed.
Arthur M. Concello, manager of the crions, was arrested and charged with violation of two sections of the California Administrative Code, See. 494. blocking of exits, aisles and paragewavs by persons for whom no seats were available and by other obstructions: and See. 499, permitting persons in excess of the legal capacity to enter the tent.
At the time of his arrest. Mr. Concello, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty, and posted $500 bail on the two counts. Subsequently on Nov. 25. 1948. Mr. Concello’s attorney asked for bail reduction to $200 on each count, then asked that bail be forfeited, which the court allowed.
This account, forwarded by Marshal Roppe, at the suggestion of Chief George Courser should give food for thought. The Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus holocaust occurred in Hartford, Conn., on July 1944. The death toll is given as 168. Following the tragedy, the principals were sentenced to heavy fines and jail terms. The circus was permitted to continue, after instituting certain safeguards against a repetition of the fire, on the theory that the fines could only be paid off by this means.
It will be recalled that the catastrophe resulted in nationwide stiffening of the fire prevention laws. Fire departments all along the circus’s itinerary (and those of other out-of-door entertainments) have been painstaking to check these traveling shows for fire violations, and in not a few instances a number have been found.
Front the experience of Chief Courser and his aides, it would appear that the lessons of the Hartford tragedy have already been forgotten or, if remembered are being deliberately and wantonly ignored by the circus management.