Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thirty Years Later and No Memorial to those who died in The Who Concert Tragedy

- US Bank Arena downtown, formerly known as the Riverfront Coliseum and completed in 1975, was the site of "The Who Concert Tragedy" on December 3rd, 1979.

It was exactly thirty years ago today that eleven concertgoers were trampled to death outside of what was then known as Riverfront Coliseum. As rock legends, The Who, began their sound check that evening, thousands of spectators crowded outside, pushed forward mistakenly thinking the concert was starting. Eventually arena officials opened the doors to the swarming crowd, the problem was they had hardly opened any doors at all.

For those of my generation who weren't alive when it happened, it's been something we've always heard about, a local story, a local legend. I never realized the full scope of the tragedy though until yesterday when I was reading the first hand accounts that had been posted on The Cincinnati Enquirer's website. That night, as I attended the Cincinnati Cyclones game, the announced attendance of 1300 spectators was only about 1/12 of the nearly 16,000 who had crammed into the Coliseum to see The Who nearly thirty years before.

- An estimated 1300 spectators in attendance at a Cyclones game the night before the vigil, roughly 1/12 of the 16,000 who attended The Who concert.

The media and press are often credited with using The Who and "Rock & Roll" as a scapegoat for what happened that night. The real culprit, however, was poor planning by the arena's staff. The crowd had tickets for festival seating, general admission that allowed them to sit wherever or to take the floor. First come, first serve. Too few doors were open and a crowd who had been waiting all afternoon wanting to get the best seats, rushed and pushed through the only doors that were open, crushing and killing eleven in the process.

Thirty years later, no memorial to the dead stands on the plaza of the Riverfront Coliseum now known as US Bank Arena, but tonight a makeshift memorial was made and a candle light vigil held.

- Candles and a copy of the Rolling Stone article covering the event in place outside of the arena's box office.

- Lyrics to The Who's single "Baba O`Reily" in place at the makeshift memorial.

"Thirty years later and they still have the same sized doors, have they learned nothing? Shouted Chris Egbers as he lit candles during the vigil. Chris had been there for the concert that night and felt that the arenas staff and infrastructure are still incapable of handling large events. As Tairy Green posted over at CAAST a few weeks ago, the arena staff had trouble handling a large crowd gathered on the concourse for a recent Phish concert. As someone who attends many Cyclones games at the arena every year, I can attest to how poorly the arena supports large crowds. Any time a game gets over 7000 in attendance, it gets extremely hard to move around the crowd.

- Chris Egbers was one of many at the vigil who felt the arena and it's staff are still incapable of handling large crowds. "Adults who were too cheap caused those kids to get killed, too cheap to have enough staff that night." he stated.

- One lantern for each victim of the tragedy.

- David Woloszyn being interviewed by Channel 12. David, who had been in attendance that night, has been coming to lay flowers at the arena every year since and is currently working to get a memorial in place.

- David displays his ticket from that night, the only surviving handwritten ticket.

- Howard Matre displays his ticket stubs from that evening.

- Howard Matre displays the shirt he had bought from the concert that evening.

Thirty years later the arena's operations are still criticized for how they handle large events and no memorial stands for the victims on the arena's plaza. I don't think people realize the full scope of the tragedy that occurred.

- A sign placed on the doors that were the first to open thirty years ago where the deaths occurred.

This is something that needs to be remembered and so far the city and the arena have done very little to remember those eleven people by. Hopefully, that will soon change.

Update | Oct. 7, 2017:
  • Six years later in 2015, on the 36th anniversary, a memorial was finally erected. The Enquirer covered it here.


  1. Great write-up and photos. The Who tragedy, as well as the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, are two of those things that continue to haunt the Cincinnati area.

    Sadly, the lessons are never learned. Similar events happened before this one, and they happened afterwards. Maybe if we did a better job of remembering these types of things, they wouldn't keep happening.

  2. Whats with all the artsy black and white

  3. Between the 1600/1250 ISO I had to shoot at and the nasty neon lights of the arena, the white balance was all goofy and grainy so they looked better in black and white than trying to adjust the colors.

  4. It disgusts me the money is always before sense. And all this time has passed and things stay the same. Why study history in school if we never learn from it?

  5. White Male Land OwnerDecember 31, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    Once again, only pictures can demonstrate the true feelings from that night. The looks on the peoples faces tell it all.
    Great work.

  6. I was there. I will never forget the screams of the dying, the sirens, crowds yelling to get back! I ran towards the stadium across the bridge between the two. You could feel the concrete bridge moving up and down, I got pushed to the edge but was grabbed by a friend. He saved my life as I was about to be pushed over! They changed the law quickly to Require assigned seating, years later, after Promoters whined about their profits, and General seating returned. I was Outraged,as many others! I have Never attended another show at that Deadly Facility, and to this day will not go into Large Uncontrolled Crowds. We ALL knew something like this would happen, it already HAD! I attended an Emerson,Lake&Palmer concert at Cincinnati Gardens before the Who Tragedy. I was First in line, the sound checks started and the Crowd started pushing. I was pressed up against the glass doors as they started to crack! I had on a heavy coat, covered my face with my arms, and was shoved through the glass! Inside on the floor and bleeding, the police grabbed me and were going to hit me with their clubs when the rest of the doors started breaking, I escaped and went on to watch the show. It was the Who Tragedy that finally WOKE ME UP! I have not and will not Ever attend a show without assigned seating, and I avoid Venues that don't have proper procedures or facilities for Large crowds. Never Again! At least that is what the City Leaders said at the time. Now we have General Seating AGAIN, and it WILL HAPPEN AGAIN. Peace to ALL THE VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES!.. Carl Fox

  7. I find the pics rather obnoxious.

  8. Let,s go back & place the blame on all the right places ! The people who had complete disreguard for human life , & trampled those young people are also to blame ! This is excuse for human Idiocy ! I was a young man back then , & I would not hace acted in haste for any reason ! jIM

  9. Anon, while I'm sure there were certainly people who had no regard for those beneath their feet, many of them probably weren't aware they were killing anyone. A lot of the pushing was coming from the back of the crowd which stretched all the way around the coliseum plaza. Those pushing at the back, forcing those up front probably had no idea what they were doing. While it's a shame, the fact still remains that the arena management at the time really dropped the ball.

  10. I go to a few REDS games each year.. and walk around U.S. BANK ARENA. Where did this tragedy occur? Which side or entrance door to the arena? Thanks for posting the photos and remembering.