I spent most of the day yesterday at a memorial service for clowns. Here’s what happened. In 1918, a train wreck in Hammond, Indiana killed 86 people and injured many more when an engineer fell asleep and ran his train into a stopped circus train which housed the traveling Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Most of the people killed were circus performers and roustabouts. The victims of the crash are buried at Showman’s Rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in Lake Forest, IL. For the past several years, local chapters of clown guilds have gathered once a year to hold a memorial service and performance in their honor. Shana heard about this from a friend and got a group of people together to go and see the spectacle. I couldn’t resist.
Almost everyone I know is afraid of clowns. I’m not; they’re not my favorite part of the circus, and I think they’re a little creepy, but they don’t actually make me nervous. However, even I was uneasy a couple of times at this event. It felt so oddly voyeuristic to be there, watching what was essentially mourning for a very insular group of people. And yet, the voyeurism was encouraged and our attention was sought after with performances and prizes and trivia games – there was an actual program for about an hour and fifteen minutes, leading up to a procession of clowns laying flowers on the Showman’s Rest memorial.
The primary source of my discomfort. (He’s the one who was handing out cockroaches, naturally.) At one point, I was taking pictures of the show, and he walked right in front of us – about six inches away. I didn’t see him coming, and I think I stopped breathing for a second. I’d been trying to get a good picture of him for a while, and I think he’d noticed and was trying to unsettle us on purpose. It worked.