The Ballad of Showmen’s Rest


Here is song #1 for November 1. Ed Dunn said he always wanted to write a song about this event that happened in 1918, so here is a rough draft of the lyrics that he may decide to musicate.

Ballad of Showmen’s Rest
by Pam Bowen and Ed Dunn ©

The circus train was headed for a show in Indiana,
With horses, dogs, and elephants bedded near the engine.
At 4 AM they had to stop: an axel box was burning.
If they could fix it quickly, they hoped there’d be no danger.
Acrobats and roustabouts slept soundly in the back
While trainmen laid the warning flares along the darkened track.

The driver of the Detroit train, asleep at the controls
Plowed into the circus train at forty miles per hour.
Splintering four sleeping cars with steely, sudden power,
Stacking them like a kindling pile, high as the telegraph poles.
Flames and smoke, shouts and cries climbed into the air,
And eighty-six circus showmen didn’t have a prayer.

Strong men, hawkers, and pretty girls of the flying trapeze
Burned and crushed and faceless, identities unknown,
Fifty-six were buried in a mass ‘neath nameless stones.
Labeled “unknown male”, “female #2” or “Smiley”
In Forest Park, Illinois, at a place called Showmen’s Rest
Temporary hired hands sleep with the Big Top’s best.

Go there now and you can see five stone-carved elephants
Circling the circus dead, trunks drooping down in grief.
Sometimes late at night when the daytime noises sleep,
Neighbors say they hear the call of mournful elephants
Crying out like widows to their masters and their friends
Performing in that Big Top where the circus never ends.

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2 thoughts on “The Ballad of Showmen’s Rest

  1. gitpa November 1, 2011 / 4:28 pm

    So I thought that I was gonna jump on here and see a few lines… Wrong!!!

    Good Stuff

    Sal

    • pambowen November 1, 2011 / 4:39 pm

      Sal, wait till you see tomorrow’s. You’re gonna love it. Wink-wink.
      Pam

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