Boxing Fans Take the Plunge at Saltair

Yvette D. Ison
History Blazer, February 1995

For some fans, boxing was not the only excitement at Saltair on the evening of May 12, 1910. As the match between Pete Sullivan and “Cyclone” Johnny Thompson came to an end at 11 o’clock, several hundred of the 3,000 fans rushed to the exit to catch the next train from the famous resort to the city. The overanxious would have done better to wait. Due to the weight of so many people heading to the train station from the Saltair coliseum, a poorly constructed, temporary stairway collapsed. Nearly 100 people fell, fully dressed, into the salty waters of the Great Salt Lake.

Though the water came up only to their armpits, none were prepared for the sudden plunge. More dangerous than the cold water were the flying timbers of the broken stairway which caused bruises and even broke bones. Rescue teams quickly arrived to pull people out of the water with ropes and shovels. Within five minutes most of the victims had been recovered and were drying on land. Those seriously injured, some ten people, were put on the first train to Salt Lake City. The rest had to wait their turn for another train to take them home.

Meanwhile, rumors quickly spread throughout the city. From the first trainload of “survivors” to return home, residents heard an exaggerated account of the event. One story circulated that the stairway had been destroyed by rowdy fans angered by the defeat of Sullivan. Others thought that the entire Saltair resort was sinking into the lake and that thousands of people were dead and dying. Concerned family members and friends waited for their loved ones at the train station late into the night.

When reactions to the event finally settled the next morning, newspapers came out with a statement from the manager of Saltair, apologizing for the collapse and asserting that the building was well constructed and safe for further use. The event, he claimed, had not been caused by faulty workmanship but by the excessive weight of too many people on the structure. He denied responsibility for the accident, saying that the injured should seek redress from fight promoter R. A. Grant who had leased the arena.