Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Return to Showmen's Rest

Besides being the Day of the Dead, it so happened that I had an interview and property tour to do in west suburban Berwyn, Illinois, today. So my plans could easily be expanded to include visits to the west suburban cemeteries of Woodlawn Cemetery and Forest Home Cemetery (Waldheim), both in Forest Park.

I posted about Woodlawn and its Showmen's Rest six years ago. Has it really been that long? This time I brought a camera. It was a fine fall day, after all.

The symbol of the Showmen's League of America -- the organization of circus workers -- is an elephant. Four elephants flank the showmen's graves, and one is among the graves. Their trunks are down, as if in mourning.

Circus workers from 1918 to the present are buried here, most notably 56 victims of the circus train wreck of June 22, 1918. The Showmen's League web site tells the story. On that day, it says, "the Hagenback-Wallace Circus was scheduled to present its fabulous spectacle in the Show Grounds at 150th and Calumet Avenue in Hammond, Ind. At about 4 am while the train was heading toward Hammond, carrying 400 performers and roustabouts, [it] had to make a stop near Ivanhoe in order to cool an overheated wheel bearing box...

"An empty troop train was approaching at full speed from behind, piloted by engineer Alonzo Sargent, who had previously been fired for sleeping on the job. Ignoring the red lights and the efforts of a frantic flagman to signal the oncoming train, it plowed into the back of the circus train, destroying three sleeping cars before finally coming to a halt. A fire then broke out.

"Survivors of the crash, trapped under the wreckage, were unable to free themselves and escape the flames. An estimated 86 people died in the accident. No animals were killed. Most of the dead were roustabouts who had been hired hours or days earlier for the Hagenback-Wallace performance in Michigan City."

Many were buried anonymously.

Or identified only by what they did, such as the "4 Horse Driver."

Besides being a time of war and plague, 1918 was a bad year for U.S. train wrecks as well. The Great Train Wreck of 1918 in Nashville killed more than 100, and an accident in Brooklyn killed nearly 100.

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