The Greatest Showman Cemetery…
So as a teenager, my friend Jay and I would walk Cemeteries and play this game. No one won anything but the bragging rights of finding our birthday on a tombstone, extra points if it was the exact birthdate and year. Yes, Wisconsin didn’t have much to do, and I’m sure it wasn’t being very respectful, but we were kids and kids are idiots. Follow me now, as then “The Greatest Showman” premieres a couple of years ago. I AM HOOKED! I saw it way to many times to count, and every time I saw it, I sang and danced that much harder, to the embarassment of my family nonetheless. Fast forward to this past summer, of summer of anything goes, and what it goes with was a gem of a place I didn’t know even existed.
“Showmen’s Rest” is this beautiful section of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois where they bury the deceased of the Circus life. I had been touring many Cemeteries this year, so this was really interesting to find. But so incredibly sad all at the same time, for the majority that rest here died in a tragic Circus Train accident. Known in History as the “Hammond Circus Train Wreck,” an empty Michigan Central Railroad troop train headed towards Chicago collided into the FULL Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train, just 5 miles outside Hammond, Indiana. The Engineer had fallen asleep, causing 86 performers and workers to perish in the wreck. What day did it happen? June 22nd, 1918. There’s irony for ya. What’s even sadder about the event is that they couldn’t identify bodies, and clearly noone I guess had a list of names, so they graves are marked by things like “Baldy” and “Driver Number 4.” Can you imagine having that on yours? Even sadder, there are many more that just say “Unidentified.” Buried in a mass grave, this event began this section, formed by the Showman’s League of America in 1913 by a name I am sure you have never heard of, Buffalo Bill Cody as their first President.
Woodlawn is NOT a small Cemetery, so it took some time on finding this. The area is near the intersection of Cermak Road and Des Plaines Avenue. It is marked by FIVE large elephant statues, the largest being in the center. To this day they celebrate and remember on each Memorial day here, and it is still an active burial site for those Circus performers who pass today and beyond. I was taken back by the Circus trinkets people had left them on the tombstones, it was so beautiful. I left change there and of course talked to them with a prayer.
On a side note, they did go on to perform at the Circus in Beloit, WI on June 25th, just three days later. I guess the show really must go on. Check it out if your’e in the Forest Park, IL area and read about my other Cemetery and Road Trip adventures- enjoy!