Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Day: July 28, 2015

“Big Top Burning” by Laura A. Woollett

Big Top Burning
Big Top Burning” by Laura A. Woollett

c.2015, Chicago Review Press
$18.95 / $22.95 Canada
167 pages


For months now, you’ve been growing out your hair.

One day, it will be long enough that you can become an aerialist who hangs by her locks, looking like a mid-air ballet artist. And if that doesn’t work, you could be a lion tamer, for sure, or maybe a clown. But no matter what you choose, read “Big Top Burning” by Laura A. Woollett and stay safe.

In the middle of World War II, when resources and money were both scarce, a trip to the circus was a huge treat. Families sometimes saved for months for the chance to see big cats, elephants, trapeze acts, and clowns.

That was the case for many residents of Hartford , Connecticut , when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town that day in early July 1944. Everyone was excited – even the government knew the circus was good for morale – and they quickly took their seats on bleachers or in fold-up chairs lined up on boards.

“More than 6,000 people attended the circus on that hot July 6 afternoon,” says Woollett.

The Big Tent (which was “massive” and weighed over 75,000 pounds) filled quickly with circus-goers, clowns and horses, bears and lions, tigers, chimps and elephants. Large chutes at the entrances whisked the animals in and out, the air smelled like popcorn, and the afternoon promised to be a fun one.

It’s likely, then, that few people noticed the tiny flame on the side of the tent in the corner by the men’s room. Those who did probably thought the circus workers would take care of it; fires were pretty common at circuses at that time. The tent was waterproofed with wax and gasoline, but nobody gave that much thought…

… until the fire spread, and so did panic. Screams filled the air and circus-goers raced for exits, some of which were blocked by animal chutes. A few people escaped beneath the circus tent. Others fell to the ground and were crushed. Within ten minutes, the Big Tent had burned to the ground, injuring more than 480 people and killing 167 people, 59 of which were children under age ten.

But how did the fire start, and who were the people whose bodies were never claimed?  The answers to those questions are still unknown…

It’s summertime. Who wants to read history books in the summer, anyhow?

Give your child “Big Top Burning,” and rest assured that he will.

With a sense of urgency and just the right setting in time, author Laura A. Woollett presents this true story in a way that will resonate well with the age group for which this book is intended (10 & up). I was riveted by the personal accounts of this tragedy, and I think the lingering mystery at the end will capture kids’ interest.

While the photographs inside this book aren’t terribly graphic, some of the narrative might be a bit much for sensitive young readers. Just be aware because, even for an adult, “Big Top Burning” can be a hair-raising book.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

Hearing held for new subdivision

A proposal calls for converting this 5.73 acre piece of land into a 32-home subdivision called Bowden Meadows. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
A proposal calls for converting this 5.73 acre piece of land into a 32-home subdivision called Bowden Meadows. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Some concerns were expressed July 16 regarding a proposed new housing development in west Keizer.

And no, concerns weren’t just expressed by the neighbors.

Three neighbors did express various concerns before Hearings Officer Cynthia Domas, who conducted a public hearing on a proposal to turn 5.73 acres of land on Burbank Street into a 32-lot subdivision known as Bowden Meadows. The lots would range in size from 5,000 square feet to 10,856 square feet with the average lot being 6,033 square feet.

The project applicant is Mark Farrow on behalf of Trademark Enterprises LLC for property owned by Robert Bowden and Doug Harner on behalf of JDC Homes LLC.

Sam Litke, senior planner for Keizer, noted the subdivision was planned several years ago.

“This particular property had received approval in early 2008 for comprehensive plan zone change/lot line adjustment,” Litke said. “The recession that year means the subdivision that was approved never happened. Now a new applicant has come forward. The lots are slightly different. There are slightly more lots.”

City engineer Bill Peterson had an issue with the site distance in the plans, as well as the revised plans meant to respond to that concern.

“When you skew the distance like that, there is a horizontal alignment,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t meet the city standard. If it did, that would improve things quite a bit. There’s a lack of adequate site distance to the south on Burbank. In my mind, I think it’s unsafe. Neither (proposal), as far as Public Works is concerned, is adequate. I don’t think the proposal meets the code. The footages they need to make it work, they will have to acquire some property. This isn’t new. This goes back to 2008 when a zone change was made to make the property work.”

Mark Grenz from Multi-Tech Engineering said engineer Karl Birky from Associated Transportation Engineering and Planning submitted two design alternatives, either of which he feels would address Peterson’s concerns.

Karen Bajpai, a Burbank Street resident, expressed several concerns about the project.

“My No. 1 concern is the impact on Keizer Elementary,” Bajpai said. “They had a 7.5 percent increase in the student body last year and the schools were already jam packed. In addition, there is another housing development (Windsor Island Estates) building 50 to 60 homes plus the 32 here.”

Bajpai also had concerns about the impact on migrant birds, traffic and the lack of nearby parks.

Litke noted an analysis from the Salem-Keizer School District showed the new development would add six students to Keizer elementary schools, three new middle school students and five new high school students.

Marilee Teller, a Bowden Lane resident, had similar concerns.

“My knowledge from being in state government is if they say no significant impact for the city, police department, fire department and schools, if you add up the new developments, there will be a serious impact over time,” Teller said. “I’ve seen the game played before. There should be concern about other property, especially the farm land.”

John Blake, whose family has worked the farm land west and north of the property in question since 1906, had concerns about barricades meant to protect property and control traffic being ignored. Blake also expressed concern about an application listing only single family homes initially, then being changed afterwards.

“If you have 200 houses and 25 percent are duplexes, that creates a bigger impact on traffic,” he said.