Miami Showman’s Rest

From time to time, I remark on different wildlife visible in our community. There’s just so much. Here a superlative and surprising example from the file I’ve compiled in the past few months.

Showman’s Rest started with a post on Atlas Obscura (AO), an interesting blog about everything and anything around the world ( I had tried to contribute the work of Kevin Roth (see Imaginary Landscapes, April 26, 2021); I thought these amazing artistic expressions fit their bill. I guess it did not make the grade.

After seeing the AO posting, a visit to one of our many cities of the dead was put on my “Must See” list. Try as I could entice Constant Companion to go, I failed. Then one day a few months ago on a COVID-period shopping expedition, I enticed a friend to take a slight detour. First some interesting background, then what we saw.

The Showman’s League of America was founded in 1913 by circus and carnival workers in Chicago. Their goal was “to promote friendship and fellowship of all outdoor show people and their associates.” It was more or less a mutual aid society providing health benefits for its members. One of its first actions was to create a special cemetery for circus performers after a 1918 train wreck when more than 100 people from the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus died. Other “clubs” were founded around the country afterward.

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.jpg

The South Florida chapter was founded in 1944, where many shows and workers spent the winter months. By the 1950s, Their own area in a local cemetery, Southern Memorial Park, was established with separate sections Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish members. I was surprised to see the number of Jewish headstones. Then I remembered my mother’s friends, Chuck* and Barbara Navon, longtime carnies who sold jewelry at fairs all over the country.

*She met them at a chance meeting some 5 decades ago at the Ohio State Fair. Chuck’s family like Mom’s was from Ioannina, Greece. Stories of small worlds!

Three showman’s groups exist in Florida, the Miami one is the oldest. About 85% of the plots are occupied today. The organization is now based in Ft. Lauderdale; when it was based in Miami members held an annual memorial service at the cemetery.

The area is marked by a big display of lions and an elephant, animals which were a big part of circus acts of the not so distant past. The elephant used to wear a blanket that read, “Show folks. May they always be right, but right or wrong, Show folks.” The statues were imported from Italy over forty years ago. They are refreshed with a fresh coat of paint every four to five years. The unnamed elephant can be seen from all over the memorial park.

Simple markers at ground level are all that indicate the many final resting places. Some names are accompanied by nicknames like Louis “Peanuts” Baker, Earl “Doc” Norman, Sol “Duke” Geffen, Bernard “Bucky” Allen, John “Whitey” Hilferty, Alfred “Rhody” Ridings and Harry “Lively” Bernstein. I only found Anthony Fustanio, “Porky,” accompanied by a trumpeting elephant.

We could not have chosen a more beautiful day for a memorable visit to one of our beautiful and historic sites.

I’ll share more “animal” citings another day!


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