Christmas Ghost

By: Amy Kehm
By: Amy Kehm

It was Thursday, Sept. 6, 1906 and the circus was coming to Staunton. The circus used to come to Staunton multiple times a year. One of the circuses came to town and featured a very popular trapeze artist, Eva Clark.

The train brought Clark and the circus in. After an ordinary performance on the West side of town, the night turned tragic. Richard Hamrick knows the story well.

"She was killed at the train, at the Runs is the way the circus people referred to it, following the evening show. That it was either done by her husband or her boyfriend," Hamrick said.

Sergei Troubetzkoy at the Convention and Visitors Bureau also knows the tale.

"Her husband and a roustabout got into a fight. And she was present, when one of the two men pulled a gun that went off," he said.

"It says, 'Eva Clark with Cole's Circus, killed by her husband, buried in Thornrose Cemetery," Hamrick said.

Clark was taken to Kings' Daughters Hospital, now torn down for a new Mary Baldwin dormitory. For weeks, her condition was front-page news in the then "Staunton Dispatch."

Then, on Oct. 1, Clark died. Before she died, she let both men off the hook -- telling authorities the shooting was an accident. She was buried in Thornrose Cemetery without much ceremony. But each Christmas, from then until this day, a wreath appears on her grave.

"For many, many years, no one knew who was placing the wreath," Troubetzkoy said.

It's actually sent by a circus fraternal organization, the Society of Saints and Sinners. Or is it?

"I don't really know where it comes from. I called the organization here in town -- it's a circus group -- the Saints and Sinners -- and they tell me they don't put it there. So, I don't know," said Becky Dotson, who has been at Thornrose for 26 years.

For now, it will remain a mystery.

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