and now for something completely different

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 opening procession.

The world’s most adorable dog, apparently a mix of corgi and golden retriever. He turned out to be part of the show and is named Jelly.

Clowns were handing out goodies, including smiley face stickers and plastic cockroaches. Colleen was thrilled with her plastic bug, and less excited when she saw some real ants.

Man, wearing a white clown mouth.
The hat had a Minnie Pearl tag on it.

There’s something profoundly disturbing about a clown practicing his act in a graveyard.

I got bored after a while and lay down for a nap, earning myself a sunburn in the process.

Working out the details on the giant clown glasses.

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.

A curious memorial marker, the only one of its kind in the cemetery. I couldn’t make out what it said, but it seemed to be some kind of indicator for a section of Showman’s Rest.

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2 thoughts on “and now for something completely different

  1. least_terrible

    What a weirdly wonderful thing. I told a friend of mine that you were going to some kind of a clown memorial service and he asked, “Was it serious?”

    At first I said, “As serious as one can be, I suppose, dressed as a clown.” But then I added, “Which is pretty serious, I guess.”

    Love, love, LOVE the black-suited clown, “clowning” so seriously in front of the grave marker. I want a print of that.

  2. Fringe

    It is unsettling. A tragic accident made into a sort of circus sideshow, but perhaps it’s appropriate for the victims to be honored in that way. Maybe it’s what they would want.

    The person who chooses to be a clown is something of a mystery to me. I have to say that the cockroach-giving clown is somewhat troubling and dark.

    Thank you for the clown funeral explanation, dearest! xo

    p.s. I hope your sunburn is better 🙂


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