Cemeteries and graves have different meanings for people. While some people believe cemeteries are inhabited by the spirits of their departed loved ones, others believe there are no spirits present - just graves filled with coffins and ashes. As a result, graves hold no special importance to them and mother nature is allowed to reclaim them.
Others leave trinkets to commemorate important past events or happy memories of days long ago. In Maui, there is a cemetery where bottles of liquor and glasses are left on graves as if the last party was the best.
The headstone of the grave of Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, has various medallions lying atop the marker. These medallions commemorate years of sobriety and are given to individuals each year of success. The medallions on the gravestone are left there by anonymous alcoholics who credit this man, in part, for their new lives.
An old cemetery in Canada lies near the the shores of the ocean in sight of daredevils gliding through the sky.
And occasionally there are cemeteries and grave markers that evoke all sorts of emotions - laughter, a nostalgia for yesteryear, a wish that the deceased was able to tell his story just one more time. There is one of these in Hugo, Oklahoma - a small town in southwest Oklahoma, less than 10 miles from the Texas border. There is nothing that would draw a person to visit Hugo from looking at its location on a map. But unbeknownst to many, Hugo is the retirement home of circus elephants who are no longer able to act under the Big Top. It is also the resting place of many circus performers who were part of the 9 circuses that wintered in that small town from the 1930's onward. It is called the "Showmens Rest."
One cloudy September day, some friends and I decided to explore this beautiful resting place. It was rainy and cloudy, and the tall pines that surround the cemetery with their rich aroma reminded me of mornings in the mountains of Colorado and Canada.
Elephants play unforgettable roles in circuses and in the Showmen's rest, they are everywhere.
Unlike most grave stones that offer the name, date of birth and date of death of the deceased, the markers in this cemetery invariably tell a story. Samuel Perez was a trapeze artist. (See above). Frances Loter, an "all around performer and show person"
The Great Huberto walked the tightrope solo and as an act, "Los Latinos."
"Okie" Carr was an animal trainer and must have worn a cowboy hat while John Carroll trained elephants. I wonder if Carroll actually stood erect on the heads of these massive animals - or if he actually tamed their minds.
I suspect that Jack Moore worked at the entrance to the Big Top -
While Harry Rawls laid out the lot when the circus came to town and is now laying out lots in heaven.
Babe Woodcock who performed with elephants was an Orton family member. The Ortons were "early American circus pioneers" who performed for the first time in 1853.
Big John Strong had more friends than Santa Claus. He must have been quite a man!
I wonder if Big John is pointing to his affirmation of his trust in God - or merely waving to us to enjoy our day.
Freckles Brown was a legendary cowboy who rode Tornado, the bull.
He was not only our friend, he had many professions and is memorialized in a poem by his friend, Wilkie Braten:
Freckles had one last declaration for his wife. What a relief to poor Edith!
and he wasn't perfect.
The Showmen's Rest is a cemetery that is so much more than a final resting spot for the dead. Many of the graves try to tell the stories of the lives once lived and to fight that creep of time that swallows so many memories of those who once meant so much to so many.