There are days when the universe seems like a game of Mad Libs gone horribly wrong.

July 13, 1855 is on that list.

It’s the day of the Toronto Circus Riot, which sounds baffling and bizarre from the name alone, but the details are even weirder.

The story starts with clowns at a bordello (see, I told you this would get really strange).

They were members of S.B. Howe’s Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus, an American traveling circus that was performing in Canada at the time.

Several clowns from the troupe were drinking and presumably carousing at the house of ill fame when they somehow got into a fight.

Either these locals started arguing with the clowns, or the clowns were being obnoxious and the locals took exception, or, by one telling, a clown knocked the hat off one of the locals’ heads.

In all of these versions the clowns win the fight and go back to their sordid brothel activities.

But the catch was, at least one of the men the clowns beat up was a Toronto firefighter.

And while today’s firefighters are generally a hardworking and law-abiding bunch, the firefighters of 1850s Toronto were not that.

In fact, not long before the Circus Riot there was the Firemen’s Riot, in which two rival firefighting companies started pummeling each other in the street instead of putting out the massive building fire they had come to stop.

Anyway, these firefighters must have told their colleagues what the clowns had done to them at the bordello, because the very next night, as the circus troupe performed, a crowd gathered outside their tent.

The firefighters started smashing up all the circus wagons and knocking them over.

Some of their supporters lit one of the wagons on fire, while others tossed rocks at the circus tent.

The police came to the scene, but since they were tight with the firefighters they didn’t stop any of the violence and made no arrests at the time.

Later they would claim they just couldn’t identify any of the rioters.

Finally the mayor of Toronto called in a militia to restore order, at which point the circus folk gathered up their surviving property and got right out of town.

And in a weird way, this absolutely bonkers event ended up being a turning point in the early history of Toronto.

In reviewing what had gone wrong in the Circus Riot, city leaders decided that there was a systemic problem with the police and fire services.

They fired all the cops, from the chief on down, and reorganized both police and fire into more modern, professional organizations.

I’m no expert on either department, but I’m pretty sure neither of them has gotten into a citywide brawl with clowns since then.

Another story from the Things Going Off The Rails Desk: a grocery store in New Zealand decided to hop on the artificial intelligence bandwagon.

Shoppers could enter a set of ingredients and the Pak ‘n Save Savey Meal Bot would generate a recipe, only the ingredients didn’t have to be actual food.

One guy got the site to suggest the very dangerous recipe for chlorine gas.

Another got a recipe for “mysterious meat stew,” with the main ingredient: 500 grams of human flesh, “chopped.”

Alert the Soylent Green factory at once!

The Toronto Circus Riot of 1855 — the day the clowns picked the wrong Toronto brothel (Spacing)


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Photo by SkiEngineer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikicommons