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Showman’s Rest: In the suburb of Forest Park, southwest from downtown Chicago, there is a cemetary with a large plot devoted to one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall a circus. On June 22, 1918, according to Matt Hucke’s article from, a train carrying performers for the Hagenback-Wallace Circus stopped on the tracks not far from Hammond, Indiana, because of an overheated wheel bearing. A second train ignored warning lights, and slammed into the stalled train. Three of the cars were crushed, and a fire quickly broke out. Victims trapped beneath the wreckage could not free themselves to escape the spreading flames. Eighty-six people died. “Most of the dead,” Hucke writes, “were never identified. Circus performers were often known only by nicknames, and many had joined only recently.” A few of the stones are inscribed with the nicknames; most of the others simply read “Unknown Male” or “Unknown Female”, followed by a number. Incredibly, the Hagenback-Wallace Circus missed only one performance. “By the next day they had borrowed enough acts from other circuses to be able to put on the scheduled show in Beloit, Wisconsin.”

Photos: Bruce Sharp, March 2003

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