On a warm June night in 1918, 400 members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were in Hammond Indiana, waiting for their train to pull into Chicago. A troop train on the same track crashed into it, causing a massive wreck and fire. Before dawn, fifty-six circus performers were dead. The show had to go on, but the performers needed a final resting place. The Showmen’s League of America provided this area in Woodlawn Cemetery, known as Showmen’s Rest. As many of the crash victims were transients, some memorials are simply marked “Baldy” or “Young Male.” But even more heart-wrenching is the story of the elephants. Legend has it that their trunks were filled with water and they were used as “fire trucks.” Many of the elephants also ran into the flames, trying to save their masters. In their honor, five white granite elephants line the memorial. Local residents have claimed that they sometimes hear the cries of elephants in the night. Others say that on nights like Halloween, their spirits wander to the nearby Brookfield Zoo, where for a brief time they come alive again, running and playing with the zoo elephants before returning to their resting place.
Woodlawn Cemetery, 7750 West Cermak, Forest Park
Best of Chicago 2013