Putting Forest Park on the map (and Google)

Opinion: Editorials

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

At the risk of writing more self-serving malarkey, I want to thank Google for the wonderful gift it gave to me and my co-author, Gail Tanzer. As reported in last week's Review, the search engine giant posted an extensive story spotlighting sculptor Edmonia Lewis and her masterpiece, The Death of Cleopatra. They posted the story on February 1st to kick off Black History Month.

This free publicity wasn't only a gift to Gail and me, it was a boost to everyone who loves Forest Park and its history. The Google posting provided a comprehensive history of the statue and it prominently mentions Forest Park as the statue's resting place for 70 years. It also describes the efforts of Historical Society founder, Dr. Frank Orland, to have the statue restored.

Dr. Orland dreamed of having the statue on permanent display in Forest Park. He believed it would be our answer to Oak Park's cultural icons, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. It would finally put Forest Park on the cultural map. He worked with an artisan from one of the cemeteries to restore the statue, but they made little progress. 

This didn't discourage Dr. Orland, who launched an S.O.S. (Save Our Statue) campaign to raise funds for the restoration. Many Forest Parkers supported the cause. In the meantime, the Smithsonian expressed interest in the statue. Dr. Orland negotiated with the curator for years, before he finally realized that keeping the statue in Forest Park was not feasible.

The Historical Society donated the statue to the Smithsonian in 1994, and the curator kept his word about giving the society credit. When the restored statue was placed on permanent display, it bore a plaque stating that it was a gift of the Forest Park Historical Society. It's ironic but by surrendering the statue and giving it a chance to survive and be displayed in a place of prominence, Dr. Orland achieved his goal of putting Forest Park on the map. He would have been thrilled by the Google article.

But getting back to being self-serving, we decided to capitalize on the free worldwide publicity afforded by the internet and posted a YouTube video of one of the public readings my novel. Joe Chomiczewski, of our advertising department, had faithfully filmed readings at various Forest Park restaurants. He put together the 23-minute video of a reading I did at Shanahan's, then posted it on Google and created a Facebook page called "Ghost of Cleopatra." If you view the video, you'll be doing us a great favor.  

Those readings were so rewarding, I'm going to give a presentation about Edmonia and Cleo tomorrow at the Forest Park Middle School. Last month, I gave them a presentation about private detective work. The students were very respectful and they asked excellent questions. They later sent me a stack of Thank You cards, which were secured by two pipe cleaners. Talk about a gift! It's been years since anyone gave me a pipe cleaner.

Finally, I'd like to give a gift to all of you. I promise no more self-serving malarkey about the statue and sculptor until there's an actual book. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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