Showmen's Rest in Forest Park, Illinois is a 750 plot section of Woodlawn Cemetery where a mass grave of 56 (or perhaps 61) employees of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were interred. They were killed in the Hammond circus train wreck on June 22, 1918 at Ivanhoe, Indiana (about 51⁄2 miles east of Hammond, Indiana), when an empty Michigan Central Railroad troop train from Detroit, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois piloted by an engineer who had fallen asleep, Alonzo Sargent, plowed into their circus train. Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the "Great Dierckx Brothers" strong man act and Jennie Ward Todd of "The Flying Wards".
The Showmen's League of America, formed in 1913 with Buffalo Bill Cody as its first president, had recently selected and purchased the burial land in Woodlawn Cemetery at the intersection of Cermak Road and Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park, Illinois for its members. Services were held five days after the train wreck. The identity of many victims of the wreck was unknown. Most of the markers note "unidentified male" (or female). One is marked "Smiley," another "Baldy," and "4 Horse Driver."
In modern times, the Showmen's Rest section of Woodlawn Cemetery continues to fill up with deceased showmen said to be now performing at that biggest of Big Tops. Each year, a Memorial Day service is held at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Other Showmen's Rests are located at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Hugo, Oklahoma. Hugo is a winter circus home which calls itself Circus City, USA. At Miami, Florida, the largest Showmen's Rest is at Southern Memorial Park. There, large elephant and lion statues flank hundreds of markers commemorating circus greats and not-so-greats. Tampa Florida's Showmen's Rest is located close to the Greater Tampa Showmen's Association near downtown.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus wreck
Following the wreck of June 22, 1918, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus had to cancel only two performances: the one in Hammond, Indiana and its next stop Monroe, Wisconsin. This was due in part by the assistance by many of its so-called competitors, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus lending needed equipment and performers so that the show could go on. The city of Hammond also joined in to help the surviving circus performers and workers. Many of the city's residents and shopkeepers gave food and clothing as well. Statues of five elephants surround the Showmen's Rest section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. The elephants each have a foot raised with a ball underneath, and the trunks lowered. (Raised trunks are a symbol of joy and excitement; lowered trunks symbolize mourning). The base of the large central elephant is inscribed with "Showmen's League of America". On the others are the words "Showmen's Rest". Some nearby residents say the sounds of ghostly elephants can be heard at night. However, as a note, there were no elephants that were buried there. And for those looking for an explanation for the sounds, Brookfield Zoo is only a few miles away.
- Matt Hucke. "Woodlawn Cemetery". Matt Hucke. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Matt Hucke. "Showmen's Rest I". Matt Hucke. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Matt Hucke. "Showmen's Rest II". Matt Hucke. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Showmen's Rest webpage, Showmen's League of America
- Showmen's Rest at Find a Grave
- Annual Clown Week Observance/Celebration/Ceremony at Showmen's Rest
- National Showmen's Association Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York
- Billboard article listing other Showmen's Rests