Cemetery puts the frown on Clown Week

Annual August celebration canceled by Woodlawn's parent company

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By Thomas Vogel

Staff Reporter

Woodlawn Cemetery's Texas-based parent company has cancelled the annual International Clown Week celebrations held by an outside group at Showmen's Rest, a historically significant plot inside the burial ground.

The yearly event, which has happened every August for the last 17 years, commemorates the victims of a 1918 train-on-train crash in Indiana that killed dozens of members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Fifty-six victims are buried at Woodlawn, Cermak Road and Desplaines Avenue, according to the website of The Showmen's League of America, an industry association that bought a burial plot at Woodlawn in 1917 where the victims are interred. 

A spokesperson for Dignity Memorial, a Houston-based network of cemeteries, funeral homes and cremation facilities that includes Woodlawn, sent a statement to the Review confirming the cancellation.

"We will no longer host Clown Week at Woodlawn Memorial Park. We are committed to preserving Showmen's Rest for visitation and remembrance in anticipation for its 100th anniversary next year and for future events. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause," the statement reads.

Dignity did not make anyone available for comment.

"For almost two decades, this event has grown from just a few faces to literally dozens and dozens more each year," said Susan Hopper, International Clown Week's Woodlawn coordinator, in a May 12 press release to the Review. "All along it has been our hope and desire that we can take 'then' and 'now' and present it in such a way that you leave feeling good and with a smile on your face. On behalf of the hundreds of volunteers who have graciously donated their time and efforts over the years to make you laugh, cry, dance, sing and bring the past back to life, we say thank you."

John Martine, a local member of the Illinois chapter of The Association for Gravestone Studies, told the Review on May 15, he's attended the International Clown Week event in the past and is disappointed to see it end.

"Everyone's very sad about that because they were looking forward to going," Martine said, mentioning it is a good opportunity to get together with other gravestone enthusiasts. "It's a really nice, free event. It's a quirky piece of fun."

Zantiny Martinez, a professional clown in Chicago, concurred with Martine in a Facebook message to the Review.

"Those clowns that lost their lives would not want us to stop," Martinez, who performed at the event in 2015, wrote. "It was great fun."

Cindy Henning, a spokesperson for The Showmen's League of America, confirmed that its annual Memorial Day celebration will still happen and mentioned the league is currently planning a centennial celebration marking the crash for next year, in 2018.

The International Clown Week celebrations, in August, are not affiliated with the league's own event, Henning said.

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