Skip to main content

Circus Acrobat Drowns in Lycoming Creek



Of all the circuses that traveled the country in the early 20th century, only the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus could rival the popularity and fame of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Unfortunately, a series of calamities (such as the infamous Hammond Circus Trainwreck of 1918, which claimed eighty-six lives) led to financial struggles, causing the circus to change ownership, passing from the hands of Benjamin Wallace to Ed Ballard, and then to Jeremiah Mugivan and Bert Bowers (of Sells-Floto Circus fame) and, later, to John Nicholas Ringling. The Great Depression delivered the final blow to the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, and the circus ceased operations in 1938.

While circus historians have written much about the Hammond train wreck, one minor tragedy in the history of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was documented by only a handful of Pennsylvania newspapers, such as the following article which appeared in the Williamsport Sun -Gazette on June 17, 1913. It is the sad story of a young acrobat who drowned in Lycoming Creek.


Circus Acrobat Lost Life in Lycoming Creek

Thirteen-Year-Old Member of Moroccoan Troupe Drowned While Bathing


While enjoying a bath in the waters of the Lycoming creek together with eight of his companions and fellow countrymen, Selam Ben Abdellah, the 13-year-old Moroccoan and member of the Moroccoan troupe, which performed with the Hagenbeck and Wallace circus, was drowned last evening about 7:30 o'clock, just preparatory to the evening performance.

Selam, with the other members of the troupe, went to the creek below the trolley bridge about 7 o'clock, and were enjoying themselves in the water. Selam and one of his companions, while skylarking, accidentally walked into a hole and before his companions, who like Selam could not swim, were able to reach him he had sunk to the bottom. Robert Shultz found him about 15 minutes after he had gone down. Together with two of the circus hands he carried the body to the banks of the creek where every effort was made to restore respiration but with no avail.


The body was removed to the dressing room tent and there was later taken in charge by Coroner A.F. Hardt. It was taken to the undertaking establishment of Gage & Redmond where it was embalmed and made ready for shipment at the instructions of the members of the troupe.


Selam was an acrobat and has lately been employed with the Hagenbeck and Wallace circus. He performed with the troupe yesterday afternoon and was probably the most noticeable of the troupe because of his youth and dark curly hair. He was among the many circus people who bathed in the Lycoming creek on Sunday afternoon.


Some of the hardships of the circus life was shown last evening when not more than one-half hour after their companion and fellow worker had drowned the rest of the troupe, eight in number, were seen in the grand parade and when the time came for their act they performed as though nothing at all had happened.


Selam was formerly employed at Coney Island and a member of the troupe gave that place as his home, even though he was born in Morocco.
 

Popular posts from this blog

Mount Carmel's Mysterious Suicide Cell

Tucked away at the head of North Oak Street in Mount Carmel is a quaint shop housed in a tiny historic brick building. The Shop at Oak & Avenue is a must-see destination for visitors, offering an impressive variety of gifts and handmade jewelry. It is a gem in an otherwise drab coal town whose glory days faded away with the demise of the steam locomotive and the trolley.

While this quaint small town gift shop gives off a pleasant appearance, the history of the building-- one of the oldest in the borough-- is tinged with horror and death. For this tiny building, erected in the 1880s, served as Mount Carmel's first city hall and jail, and this jail had a rather dark distinction of being the site of the cursed and mysterious "suicide cell".

History records six suicides taking place in the basement cell, along with scores of other attempted suicides. For a reason that has defied explanation, this tiny jail in this tiny town seems to bring out the darkest demons lurking wi…

The Mob and Marion Heights

To the casual observer, the borough of Marion Heights is a sleepy coal mining town, one of hundreds of similar soot-stained villages dotting the landscape of the Coal Region.  Prior to 1901, this borough of less than a thousand souls didn't even exist, and back then the village went by the name of Kaiser.

I grew up in Kulpmont, just a stone's throw away from Marion Heights, and the tiny village always fascinated me.  Being a descendant of Italian immigrants who toiled in various mines throughout the Coal Region, I used to love the stories my grandfather and other older relatives told me as a child.  Often, these stories revolved around the "gang warfare" which pervaded the region throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These clashes were the result of various ethnic groups who settled in the Coal Region, arriving from places like Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Serbia.  Being strangers in a strange land, they banded together and formed fraternal clu…

The Kulpmont Mob Murders of 1939

When most Pennsylvanians think of coal region history, their minds invariably turn to the Molly Maguires, Yuengling beer, pierogies, and the Pottsville Maroons professional football team. However, there is a side of coal region history that is seldom discussed; a dark, violent side that resembles something out of a Martin Scorsese movie starring Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.

Many Pennsylvanians would be surprised to learn that, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northumberland County was a haven of organized crime, a place where gunshots rang out as regularly as church bells, leaving in their wake a blood-smeared trail of terror. Perhaps the most chilling mob murder in the county took place in early 1939, not far from the curve on Brennan's Farm Road in Kulpmont.




A Gruesome Discovery

On the morning of Thursday, March 2, 1939, two brothers from Marion Heights, Paul and Mickey Mall, set out from their Melrose Street home in order to engage in some bootleg mining at Brennan…