The Devil in the Circus – 19th Century Wood Folk Art Carving

$2,000.00 $1,200.00


Salvaged from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train Disaster

An authentic South East Asian inspired wooden devil face. This hand-carved sculpture originally adorned an exotic 19th-century circus wagon but on June 22, 1918, it would become part of a tragedy that would be described as the worst rail disaster in US history and certainly the most infamous circus tragedy. Eighty-six members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were killed and another 127 were injured when their train was hit near Hammond, Indiana. For almost a century this Devil head was lost in the ruins of debris stored in a barn near the original crash site before being discovered.

Five days after the wreck, most of those killed, many burned beyond recognition, were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, at the intersection of Cermak Road and Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park, Illinois. Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the “Great Dierckx Brothers” strongman act and Jennie Ward Todd of “The Flying Wards. The burial took place in a section of the cemetery set aside as Showmen’s Rest. The Showmen’s League of America, formed in 1913 with Buffalo Bill Cody as its first president, had selected and purchased the burial land in Woodlawn Cemetery for its members only a few months earlier. The mass plot contained 56 victims of the circus train accident. The identities of only 13 victims are known and so the graves of most of the casualties are marked “Unknown Male” or “Unknown Female.” One grave is marked “Smiley”, one “Baldy”, and another “4 Horse Driver”. The site is watched over by statues of elephants in a symbolic mourning posture.

Ex. Billy Jamieson Collection
22 in. x 14.5 in. x 4 in. deep

In stock