Saturday, February 20, 2010

Showmen's Rest

There are several cemeteries or sections of cemeteries in the U.S. set aside for the burial of people connected with the circus.

A 750-plot section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Oak Park, Illinois, was purchased in 1917 by the Showmen's League of America for use by its members. The following year, it became the resting place of 56 of the 86 victims - many of them unidentified - of the Hammond Circus Train Wreck. Showmen's Rest is surrounded by statues of 5 elephants with their trunks lowered in mourning. Although no animals died in the wreck, the ghostly cries of elephants can occasionally be heard, but are said to come from the nearby Brookfield Zoo.

A total of 180 plots in Ferncliff Cemetery, in Hartsdale, New York, are owned by the National Showmen's Association in a section known as St. Peters and marked by a bronze statue of the NSA's symbol, a lion.

A Showmen's Rest section (photos above) of Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hugo, Oklahoma, is dedicated to the circus. Those interred include animal trainers, clowns, acrobats, agents, and owners, and some of the epitaphs read:
  • "Concessions, circus, fairs, carnivals, rodeos, ice shows, street corners. We have had the good life but the season ended."
  • "There's nothing left but empty popcorn sacks and wagon tracks--- the circus is gone."
  • "Give life the best that's in you for it's only a one night stand. There are no repeat performances brought back by popular demand."
A few miles away is the winter home of some of the remaining circuses.

The Showmen's Rest section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Tampa, Florida, was established in 1952 and has 454 plots. Purchased by the Greater Tampa Showmen's Association, it is dedicated to circus, carnival, and outdoor amusement workers, and contains the graves of "Lobster Boy" Grady Stiles (1937-1992) and "Human Cannonball" Edmondo Zacchini (1894?-1981).

The largest Showmen's Rest is said to be at Southern Memorial Park in Miami, Florida. The many markers are flanked by statues of a lion and an elephant.

Rather than being buried, some performers - among them Percilla "The Monkey Girl" Bejano (1911-2001), her husband Emmitt "The Alligator-skinned Man" Bejano (1918-1995), and Melvin "The Human Blockhead" Burkhardt (1907-2001) - were cremated.


  1. I used to drive past Tampa's Showmen's Rest Cemetery daily and never knew its story till reading your blog. The uniformity and simplicity of its design contrasts with the flamboyant careers of those interred there. Its headstones all lie flat against the ground, making it the least "showy" of the numerous neighboring cemeteries in the area.

  2. There are two showmen's cemeteries in the Tampa area.The one you mention was formed by the Greater Tampa Showmen's Club. The other was formed by the members of the Int'l Independent Showmen's Ass., at Sunset Memorial Gardens. This is where the Stiles family is buried.


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