Under God's Big Top: Photos from the Circus Cemetery in Hugo, Oklahoma
Showmen's Rest in Hugo, Oklahoma (all photographs by the author)
The little town of Hugo, Oklahoma, has been the winter home of traveling circuses since the 1930s, and the eternal home for some of those who spent their life under the big top. The Showmen's Rest section of Mount Olivet Cemetery is bordered by sculpted tusked elephants on granite pedestals and each grave colorfully designed to show the personality and trade of the interred.
Hugo is still "Circus City, USA," as its welcome sign proclaims, with the Kelly-Miller and Carson & Barnes circuses currently calling the town home. There's also the Endangered Ark Foundation with the second largest herd of Asian elephants in the United States, and in driveways around town you can see circus trailers alongside pickup trucks, and maybe a trapeze in the front yard. During my visit the Ark Foundation was unfortunately being renovated, but I did have lunch at Angie's Circus City Diner with its walls covered in circus posters and memorabilia. Yet oddly, the spirit of the circus may be most visibly alive in the cemetery, where the memories of these circus performers are joyfully celebrated in their final tributes. Below are some photographs from my visit to this cemetery for "all showmen under God's big top":
Herb Walters: "A showman to the last"
Grave of an animal superintendent
A circus tent-shaped tombstone
Grave of ringmaster John Strong
Detail of Strong's grave: "The man with more friends than Santa Claus"
"May all your days be circus days"
Grave of an acrobat
This circus wagon wheel reads below it: "There's nothing left but empty popcorn sacks and wagon tracks — the circus is gone."
Bonnie "Jean" Warner, Chimp Trainer
Grave of a clown?
Grave of Zefta Loyal: Queen of the Bareback Riders
The other side of Loyal's tombstone
The Great Huberto
Donnie "Okie" Charles Carr, an animal trainer
Charles Fuller: "Drowned in a swimming accident while with Carson and Barnes Circus"
Harry E. Rooks: "A life long circus performer, wildwest performer, aerialist, and horse trainer"
"Gone, but not forgotten"
A circus performer
A circus truck driver?
Grave of elephant trainer John Carroll, who endowed the Showmen's Rest cemetery
"To Each His Own"
THE CIRCUS CEMETERY: SHOWMEN'S REST, Hugo, Oklahoma