The movie begins with an elderly man (who is actually Jacob - Hal Holbrook) outside after a circus performance, looking for his ride, when younger workers notice him and ask if he is lost or needs to go back to the home. He insists that he doesn't belong in a home and becomes quite upset when they persistently ask, but then apologizes for his rude behavior. The young men bring him inside from the rain, and while one man goes about calling the old folks home, the other notices Jacob looking at the pictures hanging on the wall. The young man is shocked to find out Jacob knew about the circus and even more impressed when he says he was there, right in the middle of it. It is explained that it was the most famous circus disaster in history. The young man passes him an old photograph of a young woman sitting on an elephant's trunk, and Jacob tears up. The young man asks Jacob to tell him what happened in 1931, and so the story begins.