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A Joy Buzzer in the Face of Death

By Shannon in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 6, 2007 9:00PM

On a June morning in 1918, a circus train stopped on the tracks in Ivanhoe, Ind. The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was scheduled for a show in nearby Hammond later that day, but for the time being, an overheated wheel bearing box impeded their progress. Despite warning lights and a frantic flagman, another train slammed into the back of the idling troupe. Fire erupted throughout the wooden cars, sending 86 people to their deaths and injuring 127 more. Most of the dead were newcomers to the circus, without proper names to identify their graves.

bozo... da clownOut of this gruesome accident came a strange sight on Sunday: a clutch of clowns frolicking and joking in Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park. Woodlawn became the final resting place for 56 of the deceased. Just a few months prior to incident, the Showman’s League of America bought a section of the West Side graveyard, explaining the leap from Peru, Ind., where Hagenbeck-Wallace was based. As part of International Clown Week, clowns channeled their inner Hamlets to bid their Yoricks adieu. A myriad of clowns in all sorts of colors sang, danced, painted faces and twisted aerated plastic into animalistic shapes among the austere headstones. Time was taken to memorialize the crash and their fallen, mostly unknown brethren, but then it was back with the fun-making. Come on — they’re clowns.

We’ve been fascinated by Woodlawn’s “Showman’s Rest” for a long time. It ranks up there with the Iroquois fire for horror value, mostly because of the vast amount of anonymous dead, and the fact that they were circus performers paid to bring people joy. A few random things we noticed: Keeping with the theme, ICW’s website font is Comic Sans, which we revile otherwise, but feel is appropriate there. What really surprises us is that International Clown Week started off as just National Clown Week, and the first week in August was proclaimed as such by the one and only Richard M. Nixon. Because surely, when we think charismatic funnymen, Nixon is tops on our list.

... Oh, and um, Lollapalooza. That's a funny word, right?

Image courtesy of jaymce.