Ghost Tour Explores Chicago Clown Graveyard “Showmen’s Rest”
FOREST PARK, IL — The cowboys, wrestlers, rockers, clowns, roustabouts who rock the show at dawn, they’re all part of the Tragic Tour offered by Graveside Paranormal, May 21 and June 18.
Summer ghost hunting season is upon us, and Graveside Paranormal’s Neal Gibbons and “Paranormal Radio King” Bob Trzeciak will co-host a pair of tours exploring the coldest spots in the suburbs. south.
Trzeciak is a storyteller and historian, and is a featured host on Paranormal Radio. It will tell the stories of six well-known haunted places in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Gibbons and his partner, Steve Leinweber, will break out the Ana Hatta box to speak to the spirit world.
Guests will visit the following famous sites by bus, including:
- Archer Woods Cemetery
- The final resting place of the Grime Sisters
- Chicago’s Miracle Child – Mary Alice Quinn / Holy Sepulcher Cemetery
- Resurrection Mary at Chet’s Melody Lounge / Haunted Archer Avenue
- Showmen’s Rest and the Suicide of Frank Nitti
New to the tour this year is Showmen’s Rest, sometimes referred to as “Chicago’s Clown Cemetery,” where 56 of the 86 victims of the 1918 Hagensack-Wallace Circus train wreck are buried in grounds bounded by four elephant sculptures with falling tubes. at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park.
The tract was purchased by the Showmen’s League of America, a fraternal organization founded in 1913 by a group of outdoor carnies at Chicago’s Saratoga Hotel. Buffalo Bill Cody, the interpreter of the Wild West, was elected the league’s first president. The league looked after the welfare of the people in the show – circus performers, vaudeville performers and rodeo performers, as well as the roustabouts who entertained the show at dawn.
“Specifically how many clowns are buried there, I wouldn’t know,” Trzeciak said.
Just before dawn on June 22, 1918, the Hagensack-Wallace Circus train carrying 400 performers and roustabouts headed for a show in Hammond, IN. The engineer of an approaching empty troop train had fallen asleep at the throttle when he rammed full speed into the back of the circus train, crushing four sleeping cars. The crash ignited the circus train’s kerosene lanterns, setting them on fire. An estimated 86 people were killed and 127 injured. Most died within 30 seconds of impact.
The show must go on, however, and the brave survivors only missed two performances to put on a show in Beloit, WI, with acts loaned by other circuses. The tragic crash would go on to inspire the spectacular train wreck in the Cecil B. DeMille circus epic “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Most of the dead were thugs hired the day before in Michigan City, Indiana. The bodies were so badly mutilated and burned that they could not be identified. The bodies were buried in a mass grave at Showmen’s Rest. The stones mark circus performers known only by their colorful nicknames, including “Baldy” and “4 Horse Driver”. Almost everyone else just reads “Unknown Male”, followed by a number.
“Circuses in those days were a place to escape from a bad marriage, the law, or an unstable childhood,” Trzeciak said. “It was a difficult life. The circus people didn’t question each other, they protected each other.”
Visitors to Showmen’s Rest have claimed to have heard the trumpeting of elephants, but the cemetery makes it clear that no circus animals are buried there.
“The animals were on another train,” Trzeciak said. “On a day when there’s not much traffic and the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can hear the animals at nearby Brookfield Zoo.”
In recent years, Trzeciak said people have reported smelling smoke at Showmen’s Rest. “There may be activity, but I don’t think every time you go there is something going on.”
Not far from Showmen’s Rest, the tour will stop at a train track behind the Hobby Lobby, where mobster Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s right-hand man, committed suicide. Apparently, a man in a trench coat and wearing a felt hat appears on the tracks before dematerializing into a fog.
Both tours begin at 1 p.m. on May 21 and June 18 and last approximately 4.5 hours. Guests are asked to arrive at noon to check in and sign a waiver at The Brick Tavern, 6030 W. 111th St., Chicago Ridge. Refunds will be made up to seven days before the event.
Tickets are only $40. These tickets are going fast, so get them today at EventBrite.
Buy tickets for the May 21 tour
Buy your tickets for the June 18 tour