Forest Park history on two wheels

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Forest Park has long been a bike-friendly community. The bike route signs have made it even friendlier. The Historical Society is taking advantage of our bike-ability by hosting a two-wheeled historical tour of our town. The initial excursions are scheduled for this Sunday, Aug. 12, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., departing from the Community Center at Jackson and Desplaines.

A few weeks ago Diane Hansen, the society's executive director, and I pedaled the route on a shakedown cruise. At the Community Center, I delivered a brief overview of Forest Park history. We then pedaled north on Jackson, taking in some of the 23 points of interest we would cover.

We headed west on Madison to Altenheim. We hadn't considered adding its neighbor, Concordia Cemetery, to the tour because they discourage bicyclists and dog walkers from disturbing the solemn atmosphere. We visited the office, though, and received a warm reception from General Manager Gary Neubiser.

Gary was agreeable to allowing the tour to visit graves of victims of the Eastland disaster. This was the boat that capsized in the Chicago River in 1915, resulting in 844 deaths. He gave us maps with the site coordinates. Diane and I used our dead-reckoning skills to locate the headstones. In other words, we were too stubborn to call Gary for help when we became hopelessly disoriented. We did finally locate the graves, including an impressive black headstone that has the outline of the ill-fated ship carved into its base.

Exhausted by this effort, we rewarded ourselves with a lengthy lunch at Thyme & Honey, then hopped back on our bikes and toured the north side of town. Our route kept to quiet, interior streets, many of them paved with brick. The tour avoids Harlem, barely touches Roosevelt and - as much as we wanted to add Showman's Rest at Woodlawn Cemetery - we thought Cermak and Desplaines was too far to pedal.

We also changed the route from Circle to Hannah in order include the Historical Society, St. Peter's Church and Garfield School. Diane said there will be sufficient stops for restrooms and water to keep the bikers comfortable and hydrated. The tour takes in Forest Home Cemetery, visits The Park and winds up back at the Community Center. The route is 4.5 miles in length. Allowing for a five-minute speech at each point of interest (I had to cut my Haymarket speech down from a half hour), the tour should take two hours.

The fact that our dry run took five hours I'm going to blame on lunch.

Those interested in riding along with us this Sunday can call the society at 708-232-3747. Participants will receive a goody bag containing a handsome historical booklet and discount coupons for various Forest Park businesses - in case anyone's hungry.

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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