Showing posts with label cemetery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cemetery. Show all posts

Friday, June 21, 2013

Remembering a Circus Tragedy

One more week before the hand brace comes off - so here is a post from 2011 about the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Tragedy, which happened 95 years ago this week.

Showmen’s Rest is the nations’ most well known cemetery for circus artists and performers.  It was created in 1916 when the Showmen’s League of America purchased a plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois for the burial of circus performers, circus hands and circus artists.  Five white elephant statues circle the plot, trunks lowered as a sign of mourning.  Burials were far between for the first two years, until that fateful morning in June when circus history was changed forever.

Wreck of the Hagenbeck-Wallace
Circus Train
It was around 4 A.M. on June 22, 1918, near Ivanhoe, Indiana when the 26-car Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train stopped to cool an overheated wheel-bearing box.  Although warning lights had been set out to signal that the train had stopped on the tracks, it was struck at full speed from behind by an empty troop train.  Three of the train cars, with sleeping circus workers in them, were destroyed by fire. Eighty-six performers, circus hands and roustabouts were killed as a result of the crash and fire. Many others injured. Fifty-six of the victims were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery at Showmen’s Rest.  The Showmen’s League of America donated the plots for the showmen’s burials.
Grave Stone for Jennie Ward Todd

Jennie Ward Todd
Among those buried were Jennie Ward Todd of the “Flying Wards.”  And the “Great Dieckx Brothers,” Arthur Dieckx and Max Nietzborn.

Row of Graves
Forty of the markers are engraved as “Unknown”  - “Unknown Female, number 48” or “Unknown Male, number 29”, and the date June 22, 1918.

4 Horses Driver & Baldy
Two performers were buried under their show names, ‘Baldy’ and ‘Smiley,’ as their real names were never known.  A few stones are marked only with the person’s job descriptions such as 4 Horse Driver, June 22, 1918.  Contrary to popular myth, NO animals were hurt or killed in the train crash.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was the second largest circus in the U.S. at the time.  Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey held the number one position.  Many Hagenbeck-Wallace show posters included the line “Presenting The Most Novel Elephant Acts Ever Seen.” 

Circus performers from around the country arrived to help Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus keep to their performing schedule for that season. All told, the circus only missed one performance, the night of June 22, 1918 when they were to appear in Hammond, Indiana. 

Mt Olivet Cemetery
in Hugo, Oklahoma
There are a few other ‘Showmen’s Rest Cemeteries’ in the U.S. – one is in Miami, Florida, at Southern Memorial Park.  This is the largest of the Showmen’s Rest Cemeteries, founded in 1952.  Another is located at the ‘winter home of the circus’, Hugo, Oklahoma at Mt Olivet Cemetery.  And another is located in Tampa, Florida near downtown.

International Clown Week
It is true that performers and actors never want to “leave the boards” of the stage, and at Showmen’s Rest, in Woodlawn Cemetery, that desire is understood.  Each year, International Clown Week is held in early August.  A private memorial is held during the week for the circus performers buried there.  Then, on a Sunday afternoon, circus artists from across the world perform for the public at Showmen’s Rest. The events include circus acts, death-defying feats, family entertainment and general “clowning around,” as hundreds of clowns take part each year.  The event is billed as “a loving and festive remembrance of circus artists past.”

Showmen's Rest, Woodlawn Cemetery
As a theatre performer I can tell you, this is one of the most fitting and touching tributes any performer could ask for.  The old adage, “The show must go on…” is something every true performer believes. It is wonderful to see that it still does……at Showmen’s Rest.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Attending a Funeral

Today, I went to a cemetery - for the usual reason people go– bidding farewell to someone.  It has been years since I’ve actually been to one without a camera, and I felt a bit odd to be a part of the event, and not a detached watcher across the way.

On a windy hill in a tiny country cemetery, I stood with others under the bright April sunshine as another soul was remembered. 

And I wondered how many people had stood on that tiny hill, remembering someone dear, while clergy and friends try to console but can only offer a partial understanding of the grief, and an allocation of hope.

A Korean veteran, the deceased was given Military Funeral Honors by local American Legion members.  As the detail leader presented the folded U.S. flag to his wife, he explained what each color stood for; “The blue in the flag represents the sea and sky and stands for justice.  The red in the flag represents valor and the blood shed by American heros who sacrified for our freedom.  The white stripes in the flag symbolize our liberty.”  I have seen this presentation of the flag many times on television, but have never attended a veteran’s funeral and heard what words may be said to the family.

The ‘three volley of musketry’ salute to a fallen comrade, an American military custom, was sharp in the morning air – three shots fired in quick succession.  Then the call “Bugler” came, and I knew I wouldn’t make it through with dry eyes.  The haunting sound of Taps was fitting and filled the air with long sweet notes, played by one man, his weathered face slightly raised toward the sun…

Then came the command to ‘Order arms’ and the seven older veterans soldiered their rifles on their shoulders and began their slow walk back across the hill, and into their normal day.

As various scriptures were read, I remembered the first time I had met Bob.  He and his wife, MaryAnn, close friends of one of my dearest friends, Terry, had attended a play we were in.  It was my first venture into theatre and I had landed a lead against a seasoned actress.

As we stood in front of the stage after the performance, meeting and greeting those who had attended, Bob had shaken my hand and said, “You two have a sort of magic up on that stage – You play well off of each other – You can make people laugh.  What a wonderful gift.”

Terry and I have gone on to star opposite each other in numerous shows, and each time Bob and MaryAnn were in attendance, until his health became too bad for them to continue.

But every time, before I step onto that stage in front of an audience, I think of those words… – "You can make people laugh. What a wonderful gift."   Indeed, it is. And what a wonderful, touching compliment for an actor to hear.

As the service drew to a close, a lone bagpiper stood on the crest of the hill, stately in his jacket and kilt.  The plume on his hat swayed in the breeze.  As the final prayer died away, ever so gently, he began to play - Amazing Grace.

With each sonorous note, it seemed as if he were drawing the sound up from the earth, releasing it with the bellows he controlled under his arm. I turned toward him, the only one in the small gathering, to watch. And in that moment, I understood just how important a cemetery really is – It not just as a place to bury our dead, to memorialize them, to go and remember in; it is also a place where we separate and say goodbye, where bonds are broken, where we must let go and release them, in order to grasp the parting of ways.

Lost in the moment, I realized the music had changed; the sound was starting to recede.  When I looked up, the bagpiper was walking away, slowly, toward the sun, head held high, kilt and red plume blowing in the prairie wind. And in that moment, I could picture Bob walking beside him, following the music to see where it would lead.
The bagpiper crested the hill and was lost from view – but the final notes hung on the air for a moment, before being whipped skyward in a mixture of finality, and tumultuous expectation….

~ Joy

Friday, April 13, 2012

Remembering the Victims of the Titanic, 100 Years Later

Iceberg Ahead

Sinking of the Titanic
On Saturday, April 14th, 1912, at 11:40 P.M. the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, the Titanic, struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic during her maiden voyage.  At 2:20 A.M. the massive ship disappeared under the icy waters.  Just over a third of the 2,200 passengers and crew were still alive, sitting in the half filled lifeboats, or trying to swim and stay alive in the frigid waters.

Carpathia after rescue
When the Carpathia arrived the next morning to rescue survivors, only 700 remained alive. Over 1,500 people had died that night, most of them second and third class passengers.

Bringing in the Dead

Attending the dead
CS MacKay - Bennett
The White Star Line chartered four ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia to search for remains after the sinking.  Halifax, located 700 miles west of where the Titanic went down, sent out Cable Steamer MacKay-Bennett on April 17th to search for bodies.  CS MacKay-Bennett was carrying an undertaker, a minister, 100 coffins, canvas body bags, embalming fluid, and a cargo of ice. She arrived at the scene on April 20 and remained for 5 days.  306 bodies were found during that time. Of those, 116 had to be buried at sea. 209 were delivered to Halifax – of those 30 were not identified.
CS Minia

The CS Minia relieved the CS MacKay-Bennett of its mission on April 26.  The Minia was loaded with 150 coffins and twenty tons of ice. Due to rough weather, only 17 bodies were recovered, of those two were buried at sea.  

CGS Montmagny
SS Algerine
On May 6, the CGS Montmagny departed Halifax and recovered four more bodies, one that was buried at sea.

The final ship to recover a body was the SS Algerine. It was that of Saloon steward James McGrady, who was interred in Fairview Lawn Cemetery on June 12, 1912.

Retrieving bodies
A month after the sinking, the Oceanic discovered Collapsible A drifting out at sea. The lifeboat contained three bodies.

A total of 340 bodies were recovered in all, 128 were buried at sea, 209 were delivered to Halifax.

Hearses wait for the dead
In death as in life, first class passengers were given the preferential treatment of being placed in coffins.  Second and third class passengers, along with the ship’s crew were placed in canvas bags and unloaded on the Coal or Flagship Wharf of the Naval Dockyard.  Horse-drawn hearses arrived there and carried the bodies to the makeshift morgue set up in the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax. 

Come to claim the bodies
Families came to Halifax to collect their dead and 59 were shipped back to their families.  The remaining 150 who were either not claimed, were claimed but families could not afford to ship them home, or those who could not be identified, were buried at three Halifax cemeteries.

Stone for body number 179
Stone for George Swane
The White Star Line purchased plain gray granite markers for the deceased, listing the name and date of death, April 15th, 1912.  For the 30 unidentified remains only the date of death and a marker number is engraved on the stone.

Titanic Section
Fairview Lawn Cemetery
Fairview Lawn Cemetery received the most victims from the Titanic.  One hundred and twenty-one were buried here.  The graves are laid out in a curve, similar to the hull of a ship.  Fairview Lawn was established in 1893 as a public cemetery, located at the North End of Halifax.  Of over 100 passengers, one third have never been identified.  The city of Halifax paid for the burial of 120 of the victims.

Description of child
Sidney Leslie Goodwin
Unknown Child
A grave known for decades as ‘The Unknown Child’ is located here.  Sailors of the CS MacKay-Bennett, the ship that recovered his body, paid for his burial and carried his casket to its resting place.  His headstone reads “Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster of the "Titanic" April 15th 1912'   In 2002 the child was tentatively identified as 13-month-old Elno Vijami Panula of Finland.  But after forensic testing in 2007, he was re-identified as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin from Fulham, England.

Joseph Dawson
Fairview Lawn also contains the remains of “J. Dawson.”  This is the grave of Joseph Dawson, a coal trimmer on the Titanic from Dublin, Ireland.  Oddly enough, this name is similar to the name of the character Leonardo DiCaprio played (Jack Dawson) in the 1997 film, Titanic.  Film director James Cameron said there is no connection between the film’s character and the Irish Joseph Dawson.  But Dawson’s grave it one of the most visited in the cemetery.

Poster of Orchestra
John (Jack) Hume
Also located here is the body of 21-year-old John (Jack) Law Hume of Dumfries, Scotland.  Hume boarded the Titanic at Southampton, traveling with seven other musicians who made up the orchestra for the trip. (Hume played the violin in the orchestra.)  All eight men were traveling as second-class passengers in exchange for their performing during the voyage. Shortly after midnight the band assembled in the First Class Lounge and began to play a variety of music.  When passengers began boarding lifeboats, the band reassembled near the Boat Deck and continued to play until the ship listed, then the band members were gone.

Mt Olivet Cemetery
Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery interred nineteen Titanic passengers.  Established in 1896, this Roman Catholic cemetery has over 25,000 interments.  The graves for Titanic victims include:
Nineteen graves
William Ali, Batiste Bernardi, J. F. P. Clarke, Maurice F. Debreucq, Mansour Hanna, Ignaz Hendekovic, Petril Lemberopoulis, Henru Jalliet, Wenzel Linhart, Thomas Morgan, Servando Ovies, Pompeo Piazzo, Margaret Rice, Georgis Youssif, Hileni Zabour, and the bodies of three women and one man, who remain unidentified.
Frederick W. Wormald
Rabbi with graves
Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery was established in 1893. Ten Titanic victims are buried here. According to reports of the time, Rabbi Jacob Walter of Halifax searched through the rows of victims, trying to locate those of Jewish descent.  He realized that at least ten of the victims had been Jewish and had those bodies interred in Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. All were male but only three were identified; Titanic saloon steward Frederick W Wormald, and passengers Leopold Weisz and Michel Navratil.  It was later discovered that Wormald was of the Church of England, and Navratil, who boarded under the alias Louis Hoffman, was Catholic.

Michel Navratil
The Titanic Orphans
Children reunited with mother
Michel Navratil was traveling under the assumed name of Louis Hoffman for a specific purpose.  Namely, to spirit away his two young sons, Michel Jr, age 4 and Edmond, age 2, to American.  After a recent separation from his wife Marcelle, Navratil took the children for what was to have been a weekend stay in Southampton, England.  Instead, he boarded the Titanic with them, with plans to start a new life in America.  When Navratil realized that no one was coming to the ship’s rescue and the ship Titanic would not survive, he placed his two sons in one of the last lifeboats. The two boys became known as the Titanic Orphans. It took officials and the media over a month of searching and posting photos of the two before their mother was reunited with them in New York.
Grave of Leopold Weisz
His Business Card
Leopold Weisz was a Hungarian born stone carver, just married and on his way to Canada to start a new life.  His new bride, Mathilde Pede, survived the tragedy. Weisz did not.  He had sewn over 50 pounds in gold, his lifesavings, into his coat before they set sail.  His body was recovered from the Atlantic, still wearing the coat, with the gold weighing it down.  The money was to have been used for them to make a new life in Montreal.

Identifying the Dead
Typed description of body
The recovered bodies were numbered as they were retrieved and listed by sex and estimated age.  Hair color, facial hair, any identifying marks such as moles, birthmarks or tattoos were also noted.  A description of what type of clothing each was wearing was given, along with any personal effect found on the body.  The class of passenger or crew title was given, if known, and the person’s name was listed last, if known.

Wendla was identified
Some bodies have been identified in the intervening years.  Take, for example, body number 8 described when found as:
CLOTHING –Red striped skirt; green petticoat, grey ditto, knitted ditto; blue flannelette drawers; black button boots and rubbers, size 8; thick grey stockings.
CHEMISE MARKED ‘ ‘V.H.’ in red on front.
This woman was identified in 1991 as 23 year-old Wendla Maria Heininen of Laitila, Finland, on her way to New York.  Wendla was buried in Fairview Lawn cemetery and her name has been added to the side of her stone.

Although the tragedy occurred one hundred years ago, its impact is still felt –

The Titanic disaster led to the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) held in London on November 12, 1913.

Titanic Lifeboats
During this session it was mandated that there were to be an adequate number of lifeboats (equal to the number of passengers) on board all ships, and that lifeboat drills must held.

Firing Distress Rockets
It was also ruled that the firing of red rockets from a ship must be considered a distress signal.

Ice Patrol
The formation of the International Ice Patrol was ordered so that the Atlantic Ocean would be monitored for icebergs posing a treat to sea traffic.

Titanic Radio Room
The Radio Act of 1912 stated that passenger ships would maintain radio communication 24-hours a day and have a backup power supply.  Ships were also required to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity and with coastal onshore radio stations.

The tragedy also brought about design changes in the building of ocean liners and ships including double hulls and fully watertight compartments.

New York Herald
This Sunday, April 15th, exactly one hundred years after the Titanic disaster, an interfaith memorial and candlelight procession will be held at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax.  Flares will be set off at the time the Titanic began sinking, and the Nova Scotia provincial government will tweet the Titanic’s final emergency message @!/nsgov  (Final message was sent at 2:17 A.M. but never completed.  Ship sank at 2:20 A.M.)

~ Joy

If you would like to assist with the care and maintenance of the Titanic victims' graves, donations can be made to:
The Halifax Titanic Graves Trust Fund
Halifax Regional Municipality,
PO Box 1749,
Nova Scotia
Canada, B3J 3AS