Tupelo men recall circus stops in the area

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Bob Kenney loves a mystery, and right now he’s got a good one.
He’s trying to find the exact location of The Fat Lady’s grave in Tupelo.
Kenney has spent much of his life as a magician and comedian in various shows and circuses. These days he focuses on his frame shop in Tupelo and spends his free time researching circuses that traveled by railroad.
“It was almost like an old magic trick to see how they put this together in one town after another,” Kenney said. “They moved maybe 1,200 people, all on a train, and had three units that would have 30 elephants, two or three-hundred horses, a tent – the largest was 440 feet tall, that’s bigger than a football field.”
His digging has led him to the tale of The Fat Lady, an unnamed woman who appeared in a circus or carnival’s sideshow. Kenney isn’t sure which carnival or circus this particular Fat Lady was part of, but he knows she fell ill in Tupelo in the 1930s and the company moved on without her. She died three weeks later and was buried somewhere in Glenwood Cemetery in Tupelo, in a crate built especially for her large frame.
“Her tombstone reads, ‘The Fat Lady,’” Kenney said. “It’s just a flat stone on the ground.”
Kenney is working with Lee County historian Julian Riley to learn more about where she’s buried and who she may have been.
“I’m sure her family would like to know where she ended up,” he said.
In his research, he’s come up on a few mysteries like that of The Fat Lady.
He just solved one mystery regarding a circus elephant that died in the area in 1922.
Gollmar Bros. Circus sold the elephant to another circus traveling through the area. The elephant ran when its handlers tried to load it onto a truck, and the elephant got stuck in the mud in a creek between Shannon and Nettleton, Kenney said. In an attempt to free the elephant, its handlers broke the elephant’s neck and it died. Kenney spoke with Elmer Clark, son of the man who drove the truck, to determine where the incident occurred and he has also possibly identified which elephant was involved.
Kenney loves researching all circuses but is especially interested in circuses that have come through north Mississippi and Tupelo. With a large collection of circus posters at his house and many books on the topic, Kenney was excited to hear Ringling Bros. and Barnum amp& Bailey will be in town this weekend.
“As far as Ringling Bros., the earliest that they played here was 1895,” he said. “Tupelo has definitely been a good show town. Larger circuses have always played here.”
sheena.barnett@journalinc.com