Clowns in the Cemetery

In 1918, a train wreck near Hammond, IN killed about 60 people – many of them circus performers of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. A large memorial exists at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park.

I found out about today’s memorial service through the Chicago Reader, and also learned that the service coincided with National Clown Week.

This, I thought to myself. This is gold.

And let me tell you a little bit now about how fantastic Liz is. When I asked what she thought, she said to me: “I think we kind of have to go.” Do I have an awesome girlfriend, or what?

On driving out to the event, I had a lot of images in my head. It was a pretty macabre impulse that took me out to Woodlawn, expecting some kind of strange mixture of clown comedy in the midst of some somber funeral. I had images of clowns crying in my head, and that kind of irony happening in real life, actually happening in front of me… well, it just about blew my mind.

Instead though, I found a fun gathering of folks who got together to celebrate the idea of performance, and laughter. It was a memorial for those who died in the 1918 tragedy, but it was equal parts testament to those who came before, and who devoted their lives to making others happy.

You could tell, just by hanging around everyone… despite the costumes and the wigs and the face paint, everyone there took great pride in what they did. They were silly, but they were also professional. While they were acting and dancing around, you could see them scanning the audience, searching for those that were laughing. You could visibly see how happy they would get, making others happy.

It’s good to have these things marked.

This lady was a riot. The bubbles came from her “gun.”

Mixing in with the audience.

This guy kind of creeped me out. He was dressed in clown regalia (the shoes and all), but had this leather gimp mask and a set of bagpipes. He looked in costume, and seemed to belong, but hung out on the peripherals for most of the event.

View from behind.

Clown, interrupted. The two of them were chatting, and I stopped by to try to take a pic.

National Clown Week, processional.

Every so often, I’d look down and remember once again… that we were in a cemetery.

Flag raising, and singing of the National Anthem.

Max and friends, watching from behind the scenes.

Showmen’s Rest

One of my favorite shots from the day. :)

I saw this clown prep a pie (no whipped cream unfortunately, but Barbasol shaving cream). For the remainder of the event, I had my eye on her… waiting to see when she’d bring it out.

This was dangerous, getting this close to a clown with a pie. I hope you people appreciate all the risks I take for you. :P

Gimpy clown, watching. Always watching.

A clown, sitting in with the norms.

A bunch of clown noses were passed out, and several kids were sporting them throughout the event.

A few adults, too.

A few other clown participants.

Max the clown, with friends.

The event Ringmaster, as it were.

It’s difficult to take a clown reading poetry seriously… but this woman read a rather nice piece about being a clown, and the importance of laughter.

One of the performances (and I forgot to write down names, so I unfortunately don’t have this guy’s name). He did a lot of magic, and put on a great show. In this moment, he kept folding a piece of paper on a girl’s head. At each turn, it became a hat, and then a bigger hat, and so on until this monster face showed up.

On seeing the monster, he ran away as though scared – to great comedic effect. This shot is him, mid-run.

I liked this one a lot. Detail view, zoomed in.

This guy (not quite a clown per se, but a pretty great juggler) was FANTASTIC. Again, I don’t have names… I’ll try to look it up.

He did a great routine (below), and made juggling look all too easy.

It’s only five in this shot, but he eventually picked up a sixth ball and had them all going at once.

Shortly after the pie-in-the-face.

Mic in hand, pie in face, the show goes on.

After hearing a guy yell from the crowd a few times, this clown (the one with the bubble gun) pulled him out and made him a little trophy (a big balloon mouth). She was a whiz with balloons, and was making swords and puppies for kids all throughout the day.

Group shot, in front of the Showmen’s Memorial.

See you down the road.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. See, the thing I don’t get is…you were warned in advance about where the clowns would be, and you went there willingly?!?

    Mellzah Reply

  2. Oh my gosh, thank GOD you were there! What a brilliant event – I’m so glad you captured it!!! I’m half laughing and half creeped out!

    Layla Reply

  3. In the dead of night, I woke up and asked “Is there a clown cemetery”?Since Google has become God it seems, the result was your articleHammond IN. Thank you for your inspiration and articulate posting.

    Clown #7 Reply

  4. Thanks for the post….my father was burried there in 1960…It put a smile on my face!!

    r tuttle Reply

  5. hahaha didn’t know there was a clown in the cemetery kinda creepy !

    edith dolan Reply

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