Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Carny's Final Journey

If I die in a distant place, my instructions are simple. No coffin, no embalming, just have me cremated then shipped back in a generic box to Minneapolis.

That's it: one final flight to MSP, then scatter my ashes somewhere.

Lakewood Cemetery would be a fine place for The Scattering. It's beautifully maintained by a nonprofit, it's beside a Minneapolis lake, Lake Calhoun, and I'd be in the company of the likes of Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone. Oh yes, and Tiny Tim.

I have a physical place to return to, but what about people who do not have such a place?

So today, I left a track in the fresh snow as I walked the 6,000 steps from our front door to the southern corner of Section 28 of Lakewood Cemetery. Here I hoped to learn something about people who have no physical place to return to when they die.

I was walking to a place called Showmen's Rest where traveling carnival workers are buried.

As I approached Lakewood I imagined tragic deaths. A beam falling while tearing down a fairground ride, a botched abortion, an alcohol-fueled knife fight.

A large stone marker, temporarily disfigured by melting snow, identified the location.
I read the inscription.
No Ferris wheel with circling lights
Glitters across our quiet nights;
Bird music has replaced the sounds
Of barkers' calls and merry-go-rounds;
Tent canvas folded, stored away,
Steeps in no sun for us this day.
--Visitors at life's carnival
Did we bring something to you all?
After drudging at mill or desk
Did you find us picturesque?
Did you enjoy a thrill, a laugh?
Then let this be our epitaph. 
In front of the large marker, small grass markers still had enough warmth to melt the snow.
A car slowed to a stop. Would this be a relative with a story for me?

A young woman, holding a just-lit cigarette, walked towards me. "Could you tell me how to get to section 17?"

I agreed the section numbering scheme is confusing. I suggested she might look it up on her smartphone.

Her heavily made-up face remained blank, so I started to list synonyms for smartphone.

"Oh, an app?" she interrupted.

"Just Google 'lakewood cemetery section map'."

This did not earn a thank you. She headed back to her car and immediately drove off to resume her Brownian Motion hunt.

I imagined her driving right past section 17 while posting on Facebook about her escape from a creepy old man in a cemetery.

I resumed reading the small markers, looking for signs of lives cut short by tragedy. Instead it seemed the carnival people had lived mainly normal lifespans. There were couples who had raised children; markers honored men who had served in World Wars. Normal stuff.
Note: I took the carousel photograph at Beamish open air museum in the North of England, June 2016.


  1. Does a career in the corporate office qualify as a "Carny's" life?

    1. Definitely. The show must go on. I can imagine a BOHICA (bend over, here it comes again) clown act where the management "discovers" a "new" system of "values" for the enterprise.