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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Columbus Mileposts Feb. 4, 1883: Sudden flood washed through circus ‘town’


Sellsville, headquarters of the Sells Brothers Circus near the Olentangy River, was home to many animals

By Gerald Tebben

FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Saturday February 4, 2012

With area rivers flooding, Sells Brothers’ Circus workers struggled on Feb. 4, 1883, to rescue the show’s animals and equipment.
Heavy rains that came down on frozen ground and ice-covered streams caused the city’s rivers to rise to an unprecedented level early that Sunday morning.
The circus’ headquarters — called Sellsville — were along the Olentangy River north of 5th Avenue. And though the buildings there were constructed 18 inches above the supposed high-water mark, it proved to be no help as the river rose more than 3 feet above that level before dawn.
Sellsville included housing for 50 circus workers, cages, and sheds for the railroad cars that transported one of the nation’s largest circuses across the country from April to December each year.
“The icy coldness of the water was too much for several animals, including a camel, two zebus (or sacred cattle), one sable antelope, a white llama, a reindeer and two badgers, which died from exposure,” The Dispatch reported on Feb. 5, 1883.
Of the show’s 15 elephants, 10 were moved to high ground by “main force,” the newspaper said. The five largest ones, though, could not be moved and could not be induced to swim to safety. Later accounts, however, didn’t say whether the elephants had perished.
They did, however, talk about a frightful noise that emanated from the carnivore house as the water rose on the caged animals.
And the paper reported on the animals that became ill from the cold water: “A rhinoceros was on the sick list from exposure,” The Dispatch reported, “and had been given two bran mashes mixed with whiskey to prevent congestion of the lungs.”
The circus, which was known in its early days for its elephants and human cannonball, recovered by spring and logged 11,537 miles of travel the next year. The circus was absorbed by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the early 1900s. Sellsville ceased to exist about 1910.

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