Sunday, February 25, 2007

Water for Elephants

I just finished reading Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen. It's a fictional account of life on a circus train in Depression-era America. I'd never thought much about circus trains back in the ol' days and this book portrays a lively account of the colorful backdrop and vernacular surrounding the traveling circus.

In the history of the American traveling circus, there have been a few big disasters. One of the most notable was the Hartford Circus fire of 1944. During a Barnum and Bailey performance in the middle of July, the fire inginted and spread through the big top. The band instantly started playing Stars and Stripes Forever, otherwise known in the circus industry as 'the disaster march'. 168 people died in the fire and more than 400 were injured as they tried to leave through the main exit which was engulfed in flames. The enormous canvas tent had been weather-proofed with a mixture of gasoline and parafin.

The other major disaster was the Hammond Circus Train Wreck. In June of 1918 a train pulling empty sleeper cars collided with a slower moving train carrying the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus act with over 400 performers. Eighty-six people and numerous animals were killed instantly. The traveling circus only missed two performances before they were back on the road.

Life on a circus train was a no-nonsense machine balancing performers, roustabouts and menagerie. Sacrifices were made by all to keep the machine running, though sacrifice was not something new to this crowd of freaks, hobos and con-artists. Water for Elephants is a story about love and forbearance. It was a engaging quick read and I'd recommend it.


123Valerie said...

I love your book recommendations, B.

I just wrapped up Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan. Quite good, indeed.

andreas said...

I just read water for elephants not too long ago. I loved the ending. It made me happy.

Anonymous said...

Just spending the evening taking it all in...catching up on your life blog style. I, myself, am just beginning to explore this blog concept. It's quite theraputic. Anyways...this blog entry brought to mind the series Carnivale. The series surrounds a traveling carnival during the time of the depression. It's quite good...though it only lasted two years. Check it out!