Play tells of circus performers buried in Forest Park
Concordia drama students experience Chicago storefront theater up close
Wrecked: (Left) Actors TJ Stewart and Kaycee Jordan play circus performers injured by the 1918 Wallace-Hagenbeck Circus Train derailment. (JEAN LOTUS/Staff)
By Jean Lotus-Forest Park Review Editor
February 11th, 2014
ho remembers an unnamed clown's performance after the show?
Chicago playwright and neo-futurist Jay Torrence examines the transience of performing art and the tragedy of the anonymous circus workers killed in the 1918 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus accident in Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck! beginning Feb. 13.
Concordia University's Artists of Concordia Theatre present the show for two weekends at Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St., in Oak Park.
The show draws on historic events that have a deep connection to Forest Park.
Around 4 a.m., June 22, 1918, the engineer of a U.S. Army train fell asleep at the controls as his train sped 60 miles per hour near Hammond, Ind. The empty troop train struck the 26-car circus train, which was stopped on the tracks. In the fiery accident, sleeping circus workers and animals burned to death as wooden train cars lit by old-fashioned oil lamps caught fire.
Eighty-six accident victims were buried in the Showman's Rest section of Forest Park's Woodlawn Cemetery. Because the circus had just hired a group of add-on roustabouts, many of the victims were never identified. Memorial stones read "Baldy," "Four-horse driver" and "Unidentified male #61."
But the show must go on. The Wallace-Hagenbeck Circus missed only one performance, hiring some fill-ins from Ringling Brothers and carrying on with their tour of the Midwest.
By 1939, the circus involved in one of the worst train accidents in U.S. history was advertising, "train after train of double-length railroad cars loaded with wonders from every land."
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