Aug 13, 2010

Showmen's Rest

A large tribute to "All Showmen Under Gods Big Top" located in the center of Showmen's Rest.

As you've hopefully noticed by now, our vision for this blog is to give you authentic perspectives on Oklahoma, as seen through the eyes of everyday travelers. Like our readers, our contributors' voices and personalites are quite different. While Austin, Lacey and I may share the label of twentysomethings (though I will admit, I'm clinging to the last moments of that title), you'll find I seek out experiences I can share with my husband Mike (an adopted Okie hailing originally from Houston) and our two-year-old son Grayson (aka Gray).

That said, our common goal is to let you know about some of the hidden jewels across the state, and one of the first places that came to mind for me was Showmen's Rest in Hugo. Now, exploring cemeteries is not some dark, morbid hobby of mine, but this one is worth checking out the next time you're in far Southeastern Oklahoma.

My family and I were actually on our way down to Beavers Bend State Park when we stopped to stretch our legs in Hugo at the Mount Olive Cemetery. Again, this may seem like a strange choice, but it is not your average cemetery. Inside there is a special section named Showmen's Rest that is dedicated to famous and infamous circus performers.

You see, Hugo is a tiny little town in the southeast corner of the state where dozens of circuses have and currently do spend their winter off-season. It all started with the Miller family decades ago, and word spread about the mild weather and easy rail access so other circus companies began wintering there as well.

I've known about this place for quite some time, but had never experienced it myself. It is said that in addition to the eclectic circus performers, other celebrated personalities rest there too, including several rodeo greats such as Lane Frost, the original Marlboro Man, and Ed Ansley (aka Buster Brown).

As we got out of our car, a local woman happened to drive by and asked if we were visiting family. I told her we were not and that we had heard about Showmen's Rest and happened to be in the area. She quickly seized the opportunity to park her car and proceed to give us the nickel tour. Apparently some of her relatives are buried there and she knew the history of all the different circus companies and many of the notable characters buried there.

She stayed just long enough to give us some interesting insight and then got back into her car as quickly as she appeared, leaving us to explore the intricate and artistic headstones on our own. I've never seen such amazing headstones. It was obvious that great care and planning had gone in to each and every one. The carved stones showcased everything from animal trainers to elephant riders to trapeze artists, but with a common theme of beauty and individuality.

Here are a few snapshots of our visit:

The AG Kelly & Millers Brothers Circus headstone (one of many Miller family plots). This couple owned Miller Brothers circus, one of the first (I believe) to begin wintering in Hugo.

I loved seeing the nicknames that appeared alongside given names. It made the headstones feel very intimate and conveyed the personalities of those they were honoring.

A parade of stone elephant markers set Showmen's Rest apart from the rest of the crowd.

The performers must have loved the thrill of the show and even in death, are still drawing a crowd.


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