We don’t often associate the fun and excitement of the circus with tragedy but that is exactly what happened in Staunton 108 years ago.
In 1906, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, now known as the Cole Brothers Circus, was in Staunton on its annual visit to entertain the community when catastrophe struck.
On September 6, 1906, a 25-year-old trapeze performer, Eva Clark, was accidentally shot by her husband while he, as the story goes, was reportedly trying to confront her lover. Mortally wounded in the abdomen, Eva was cared for at the nearby Staunton hospital. She lingered for a month before dying on October 1, long after the circus had moved on, leaving her alone with the kindness of the town people. She never exposed her husband to the police and he was never charged.
Staunton folks buried her in historic Thornrose Cemetery on the western side of town where her tombstone stands today as the most requested sight in the cemetery.
Ever since that time, whenever the circus is in town, they commemorate Eva at her graveside. They have never forgotten one of their own.
This year was no different as circus performers gathered Tuesday for a memorial service at her headstone to remember the friendly young lady who captured a city’s heart.
Staunton City Councilwoman Andrea Oakes along attended with other local residents as circus personalities including clowns, trapeze artists, and the ring master, all dressed in brightly colored circus attire, gathered to hold a memorial service in Eva’s memory. Afterward, they invited Councilwoman Oakes to join them as their VIP guest at that night’s performance in Fishersville.
When asked about the Thornrose service, Mrs. Oakes commented, “It was a moving ceremony especially in light of the fact that the circus had not forgotten their friend after all these years.”
At the circus performance Tuesday night, Ring Master Chris introduced Councilwoman Oakes to the cheering crowd of circus-goers from center ring under the Big Top. Talking afterward about the evening, Mrs. Oakes was enthusiastic about the evening. “My son Ryland and I spent the entire evening watching clowns and animals and trapeze artists, and enjoying the excitement of the crowd,” she said. “The Cole Brothers Circus is a fun must-see event when in this area.”
Cole Brothers wrapped up their final performances Thursday before moving on to their next location in Fredericksburg.