The Great Balcony Collapse of 1930

By Joe Lowry
Edited by Trish Gully

Memphis and Shelby County is no stranger to disasters where there have been a great loss of life and many injured. Thirty-five airplane crashes, six building collapses, one stadium bleacher collapse with sixty seated on it, thirteen major weather events, and five fatality railroad disasters. Memphis has had three pandemics, seventeen steamboat explosions, three terrorism events during WWI, and many five-alarm or more significant fires bigger than Russwood Ballpark. This story is just one of those events.

Bargain sales should never be held on balconies.

For several days before August 11, 1930, all the newspapers had full-page articles announcing a 36-plate dinner set for one dollar at the Rhodes Jennings Furniture company located at 124 S. Main Street.

At 9:30 a.m., more than one hundred women and children filed into the store and went to the second-floor balcony; the dish sale was on this balcony. Suddenly, the walls started cracking, and the balcony floor dropped eight feet. As it fell, it broke the four fire sprinkler pipes and ripped electrical wires, causing a lot of dust and water everywhere and total panic and pandemonium. Women and children were hysterical. The broken pipe alerted the Fire Department, and they sent four engines, two Ladders, the Fire Patrol, and two Chiefs. The Police department sent thirty-seven officers with command staff. Every ambulance in town responded. Forty people were injured, and three Hinton and Son Ambulances transported twenty patients to Baptist Hospital. There was an off-duty Police Officer in the store buying something for his wife when the collapse occurred; he calmed the hysterical, led many to safety, and helped treat the ones who could not leave. He was credited for taking charge until help arrived.

4 thoughts on “The Great Balcony Collapse of 1930

  1. I had great interest in this story Joe. There was another occurrence with Rhodes Jennings in 1948. Of course nothing of this magnitude. A chair fell out of a window during the Cotton Carnival. A few spectators below were injured. One happened to be my Stepmother, Willie Mae Menichini.
    The Commercial Appeal

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