- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

HUGO, Okla. (AP) - Tommy Pence is working to add more celebrity residents to a cherished Hugo institution. He’s negotiating the expansion with a business that’s a local mainstay and a main driver of economic development.

Pence said it will be easy to keep those future residents happy; they’re all deceased.

The superintendent at Mount Olivet Cemetery is coordinating with the Carson & Barnes Circus to add a new, 48-person cremation niche to the resting grounds. The town’s municipal authority approved the expansion, and it will be installed after Northeast Texas Monuments completes the monument, but Pence didn’t have an exact date, The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1HBupGS ) reported.

The addition will expand Showmen’s Rest, a section of the cemetery dedicated to circus performers. The area is delineated with elephant statues atop granite markers. It features headstones including a 3-D circus tent, a life-sized monument engraved with Ringmaster John Strong’s likeness, and a wagon wheel-shaped tribute.

Carson & Barnes founder D.R. Miller brought his circus to Hugo in 1941, and the community became the show’s headquarters, City Manager David Rawls said. The rural southeastern Oklahoma town was once home to nine circuses, and is now home to three, he said. Rawls’ family also owned a circus and he was a performer, too.

The cemetery is important because it attracts tourists. Typically it is one of three stops for state and national tour buses, including the town’s rail depot and the Endangered Ark Foundation, a facility for Carson & Barnes’ retired elephants, Rawls said.

Mount Olivet is also a cornerstone of Hugo residents’ heritage, Rawls said. That’s why the City Council continues to allocate money through a capital improvement tax to maintain the grounds.

“The cemetery is sacrosanct, so you don’t mess with it,” Rawls said.

Pence manages a crew of three employees who meticulously manicure the grounds five days per week. Workers Donald Ritchie, Clint Efaw and Lorenso Black weed around the hundreds of monuments, mow open spaces, pick up limbs and straighten plastic flower arrangements. Pence also helps sell spaces, schedule funerals and interact with grieving families.

He said he’s happy to help maintain an attraction that’s meaningful to residents and interesting to visitors.

“It’s not as morbid of a job as you think,” he said. “It’s a source of pride for local people.”


Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com

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