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Shows goes on after tiger kills circus owner

May 9, 1997

BROAD TOP CITY, Pa. (AP) _ After the show, Brian Franzen stood in the rain crying next to his beloved elephants, camels and donkeys. The night before, one of the circus’ tigers attacked Franzen’s father, dragging him around the ring by his neck until he was dead.

The Franzen Bros. Circus, started by Wayne Franzen 24 years ago, held another standing-room only performance Thursday night. Smiling children clutching bags of cotton candy and bright balloons streamed out of the big top. Nearby, 10 restless Bengal tigers stared out from their tiny cages.

The younger Franzen said his father would have wanted the show to continue.

``We have to take in money,″ Franzen said, a slight catch to his voice. ```Otherwise, I wouldn’t have money to feed the animals or move the circus.″

To Wayne Franzen, the animals were all that mattered. He had a better rapport with his creatures than with people, his son said.

The circus, billed as ``America’s Favorite Show,″ canceled its afternoon performance Thursday in Broad Top City, about 110 miles east of Pittsburgh. The evening show went on minus the tiger act. A trapeze artist and novelty seller quit on Wednesday night, leaving 13 employees.

The circus, one of 100 such small shows traveling the country, began when Wayne Franzen quit his shop teaching job in Wisconsin and started a one-ring act.

At first, the only animals in the show came from farms _ horses, dogs and goats. Eventually Franzen, who trained all the animals himself, added more exotic animals.

On Thursday, some customers returned advance tickets, but others came to fulfill promises to excited children.

``The kids seem fine,″ said Karen Stevenson. ``I think the adults are more worried than the kids.″

Wayne Franzen was wearing a new bright suit with puffy sleeves for only the second time when the tiger apparently lunged out at the costume from behind, said James Zangaglia, chief deputy coroner of Cambria County.

The suit may have prompted the attack, authorities said.

Brian Franzen and Patty Frederick, a nurse who was in the crowd, rushed to Franzen’s side.

``We ran in there, and I was hitting the cat in the head with a pipe, but it was too late,″ Brian Franzen said.

Parents shielded the eyes of sobbing children, and announcers urged people in the crowd to leave quietly and orderly.

The tiger’s paw punctured Franzen’s lung. Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski said Franzen bled to death within five minutes from extensive wounds in his neck. The tiger tore apart his trachea and his esophagus.

Brian Franzen said he intends to return the 6-year-old cat named Lucca to the show when an insurance company completes its investigation.

``I go up there and it purrs to me. It doesn’t understand what happened,″ he said.

Rodney Huey, a vice president at Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, said tiger attacks are rare because good trainers build trust with animals. Circus workers have been injured while breaking up fights among big cats.

``I don’t know what happened on that circus, but our history shows that ... there have been fights, people have gotten bitten or cut here and there,″ he said. ``We have never had a cat trainer killed in the ring or even attacked.″

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