10 Most Horrific Circus Accidents In History

Mary the Elephant

We begin our list with a well-known tragedy—the execution of an elephant. On September 12, 1916, Mary trampled her handler Red Eldridge to death. There are various accounts of what led to the attack—from Eldridge prodding Mary with a stick and infuriating her, to speculation that she was simply bored.

While Eldridge’s death was tragic and gruesome, Mary’s fate might be even more so. The people of Kingsport, Tennessee demanded retribution for Eldridge’s death, so it was decided that Mary would hang for her crime. On September 13, a crowd of 2,500 people (mostly children) gathered to watch Mary’s execution. Mary was hung from the neck by an industrial crane. However, the chain around her neck snapped and she slammed to the ground, breaking her hip. A heavier-gauge chain was used to hang Mary for a second time, and she swung for half an hour before being dumped in a hastily-dug grave.