Saturday, July 26, 2014

Showmen's Rest - Part 2

Circus Train Wreck Victim
Ted Svertesky
1954 - 1994

     Just after 9:00 in the morning on January 14, 1994, a 53-car Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus train headed northbound from St. Petersburg to Orlando for their next show. Rolling along at 38 mph, many of the 150 performers inside were still asleep or just waking up after the previous night's show when a wheel on one of the passenger cars broke, sending 13 passenger coaches and three flat cars off the tracks. Five of the cars were thrown on their sides. 
     As the survivors wandered out of the wreckage into the morning fog, they discovered that two of their own had lost their lives in the accident, and fifteen more were injured.
     Ringling officials called the train accident their worst in more than 100 years.
     Theodore ''Ted'' Svertesky, a 39-year-old elephant trainer was found dead in a sleeper car. 
     Ceslee Conkling, a 28-year-old clown from Fort Worth, Texas, was also killed. She was missing for four hours before her body was found.
     None of the 60 circus animals, including lions, tigers and elephants, was hurt. They were traveling in cages at the front and rear of the 53-car train, which broke in the middle.
     Ironically, a news helicopter crashed while covering the accident. A photographer received minor injuries, and the pilot was admitted to a hospital with neck and back injuries.
     Born in  Connecticut, Theodore H. Svertesky was fascinated with the circus and elephants from an early age. As a child he would talk about it, dream about it and build circus models. When he was only 13, Ted ran away from home to join a circus only to be returned the following day by his parents. Four year later at 17 he joined a circus again and this time stayed.
     Ted started off doing odd jobs with the elephants, and took every chance to learn about the creatures from the best trainers in the business.
     By 1994 Ted headed the Ringling Elephant Farm, a research and breeding facility and oversaw the breeding of Romeo and Juliette, two yearling Asian elephants that were headlining the show. This was Ted's first road trip with the circus as the presenter of the elephant act in the show. 
     “It’s kind of a way of life more than a job,” said the 39-year-old trainer from Bridgeport in an interview the week before he died. 

     Ted's wife Patty Zerbini, who helped oversee the 10 elephants - including babies Romeo and Juliette, stayed with the show after the accident. She and her two sons, Anthony and Christopher, travel from town to town in their mobile home.

Terry Fenne
(1959 - 2006)

      Terry Fenne always told people that if they ever stopped by Showmen’s Rest to “Stop by and have a seat on me.” True to his word, his marker is a beautiful bench, engraved with his signature, photo and the logos of some of the circuses he worked for through the years.
     I apologize that, due to the fact that it was raining quite hard when I took these photos the engraving on top of the bench doesn't appear clear.

     Fenne literally ran away from his home in Madison, Wisconsin to join the circus at age 14. He worked for six different circuses including: Fisher Brothers Circus, Circus Genoa, Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, Roberts Brothers Circus, Kelly-Miller Circus and Carson & Barnes Circus.

      Known as the “Mud Show Elephant Man” he trained elephants and drove the elephant truck across the country for many years.

     The last few years of his life, he operated an umbrella hot dog pushcart in downtown Paris, Texas, and became a fixture of the town. 


Dudley Warner Hamilton
(1929 - still living)

Grew up in west Texas, the youngest of eight children. He served in the U. S. Air Froce and worked for the Texas Highway Patrol.
Avid circus fan, and a longstanding member of the Circus Fans Association of America. His attendance at the CFA annual conventions led him to Hugo, where he me the Geneneral Manager of Carson & Barnes. He took early retirement at age 54 and joined Carson & Barnes as a booking agent. He became so successful that for the next 20 years he trained other booking agents
He was also press agent and ran the pie car when needed
He moved over to Kelly Miller, and eventually became Winterquarters  Manager. He was know for volunteering his time to help others, especially young circus people.
He gave tours of Showmen’s Rest and served on the Crcus City Museum andPark Board.
JAN 12, 1929

Dudley Hamilton is currently the winter quarters superintendent of the Kelly Miller Circus. He was an agent for both the Carson & Barnes Circus and the Kelly Miller Circus.

Dudley's monument features an impressive elephant long mount which was taken from a Carson & Barnes Circus poster with four showgirls. The monument also has a large shade tree which Dudley said he thought would add to the scene and the words
on the front of the gravestone and the logos of Kelly Miller Circus and Carson & Barnes Circus on the back of the monument.

Joe Wallace Cooper
(1937 - 2000)

     Joe Cooper was a circus agent who worked for Allen Bros. Circus, Culpepper - Merriweather Circus, Carson & Barnes Circus and "was on the road" contracting for the Kelly Miller Circus when he passed away. He was the nephew of circus agent Dudley Hamilton, whose stone is featured above this one.

     On the front of the monument are the words: "Big Top Circus Agent," and the sentiment "He gave with world a smile each day is engraved on the base. The back of this colorful stone features the logos of all four circuses with whom he associated.

     Next week I'll wrap up with one more group from Showmen's Rest before I move on to sharing a stunningly beautiful, historic cemetery in Texas. I hope you'll join me.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Showmen's Rest - Part 1

Mount Olivet Cemetery
Hugo, Oklahoma

     Yesterday I was thrilled to be able to visit one of the famous cemeteries on my "visit one day" list: the Showman's Rest section of Mount Olivet in Hugo, Oklahoma. 

     Hugo has been the winter home of traveling circuses since the 1930's and the retirement place of many performers and others associated with the circus/carnival profession. It's known as "Circus City, USA." Hugo is also home to "The Endangered Ark Foundation," the nation's second largest herd of Asian elephants.

     It's fitting that many who have moved on to the big top in the sky find their final resting place in the local cemetery, in a special section bordered by elephant statues on granite pedestals.

     The day I visited the cemetery it was raining quite hard, but I refused to be deterred. (Thank heaven for rain ponchos!) The water did affect some of the photos and the clarity of some lettering on stones. It also prevented me from gently cleaning some stones as I normally would, since I was concentrating more on protecting my camera from the rain.
Conditions aside, it was an exciting visit filled with imagery I had never seen on gravitons elsewhere. The statues and photos bring back fond memories of carnivals from childhood.

     I'll share some of my favorites with you in my next few blogs, and hope yo enjoy them as much as I did. 

Jack B. Moore
1919 - 1969
     One of the first headstones visible as you enter Showmen's Rest is a three-dimensional replica of a circus tent. Moore was born in Marshall, Texas and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. dimensional replica of a circus tent. 

     After the war's end he launched a small show conducted under a canvas tent. The Clyde Beatty motion picture show was enjoyed along with a trained chimp, wrestling bear, pony show, a singing and dancing number by his daughter Wanda, and Happy Hanks hillbilly Show. It must have been amazing to many of the small towns they visited. 

     As the years passed, the show evolved to include larger and more exciting acts. The name changed as well, to Banner Bros., Jack Moore's Tex Carson Jamboree and eventually to the Carson & Barnes Circus.
     By 1961 the show needed 20 trucks to move the show that included 5 elephants, a moderate sized menagerie, and a Big Top that was 100 ft. round with three 40 ft. middles. 

 Herbert Weber
"The Great Huberto"
1914 - 1991

     When Herbie, the son of a Czech-German family in Ohio, saw a wire act at the age of eight, he immediately knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

     As the "Great Huberto" he performed his thrilling wire act around the world with slicked back hair, distinctive South American theme wardrobe and dramatic Latin music.

     He also performed with his wife as “Los Latinos”(which is engraved on the back of his grave marker) -  first with Chatita (Chata) Escalante (1911-1985) then his second wife Maricela Sanchez Hernandez. 

     He spent a few years working for Hollywood movie studios, performing his tightwire stunts to circus-theme movies and working as a stunt double for the stars. 

Thomas Edward Sink

     If the Thomas Edward Sink I found in my research is the correct one, he had a bit of a troubled life in his earlier years. Regardless, he reinvented his life into a beloved figure who brought joy and laughter to crowds as Popcorn the Clown. 

     It's impossible not to smile when you see this clever marker, isn't it?

     These are only a handful of the amazing markers in this cemetery. I'm looking forward to sharing more with you in the days to come.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Stories Behind the Stones

Walking through the cemetery with my grandfather was far more fascinating than opening a storybook.

Growing up, I spent part of every summer at my grandparents' farm in Oklahoma. At some point during each visit we would make the rounds to area cemeteries where family members rested. I knew stories behind each name in the family from my grandmother telling me (sometimes exaggerated) tales about them. After decorating each grave, my grandmother often wanted time alone with them to talk, so I would wander off to other rows of gravestones with my grandfather.

Then the fun would begin.

My grandfather was left to live on the streets of the small town when he was only a few years old. My best estimate from records show that he was only seven. Although it was a horrifying thought to me, he never complained or bemoaned his early life. He made his way doing odd jobs and taking shelter where he could, until he became established. Because of this and his wonderful character, he knew everyone in town.

As we passed each stone, he would slow his pace, point, and say, "Oh, now there's old man so-and-so. He owned the livery stable in town and let me sleep in the loft in exchange for me cleaning out the stalls. His wife was so kind and always made sure I had a biscuit in my pocket to start the morning."

I would follow him down the rows, fascinated by these peeks into his history until grandmother would say that it was time to go.

Over forty years later, I'm still curious to learn the stories behind the stones I find in my cemetery-seeking adventures. Some cemeteries I visit to work on genealogy, but many I stop into just to find the stories and artwork of the stones.

Some may think it's a creepy, or at the very least…strange hobby. But I've learned and photographed some amazing things. I've also found that there are actually others who share my love for old cemeteries.

So here we go…a new blog to share some of the things that I find. Hoping that you will enjoy the journey as much as I do. Happy hunting!