How the associations and rests began
According to Stanley Mazurkiewicz, historian for the Miami Showmen’s Association, the history goes back to the early 20th century.
Circus and carnival workers in the Chicago area founded the Showmen’s League of America in 1913, in an effort to fight for insurance and health benefits for workers.
“When other areas opened up and started their showmen’s associations they’d get together and talk business,” said Mazurkiewicz.
And the idea of creating special plots for circus performers actually came from tragedy after a deadly train wreck in 1918 killed more than 100 people from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
The newly formed Showmen’s League decided to honor the victims by purchasing a huge lot in Chicago to bury them.
“And from that, every club that came after them would buy up cemetery plots for their own members,” said Mazurkiewicz.
The history of the Miami association
A few decades after the first association got started, the SoFlo chapter was founded in 1944 by David Endy.
Endy was working in the carnival industry up north and was spending his winters putting on shows in Florida. After spending so much time between the two regions he decided to move down here and was eventually able to convince other workers to do the same.
“He got all those people together and started the Miami Showmen’s Association,” said Mazurkiewicz.
And by the early 1950s, the Miami association had its own rest in a local cemetery.
The rest and its design
The association purchased plots at the Southern Memorial Park and over the years scores of former members, and their relatives, have been buried in that section of the graveyard. And about 85 percent of the plots have been used.
And what about the statues of circus animals like elephants and lions? Mazurkiewicz said the animals were such a big part of the circus acts in those days that the association wanted to feature the animals.
“And they actually had a charity drive to have the big display of the lions and the elephant,” he said.
When the organization was still based in Miami-Dade members would have a yearly memorial service. Beyond that, the rest isn’t exactly a tourist destination but second-and-third generation relatives of folks buried there will often stop by or ask about the plots.
“It’s not really on the beaten path. But some of the biggest names in the carnival business are resting there,” said Mazurkiewicz, including former showmen with nicknames like “Peanuts,” “Bucky,” and “Lively.”