For 18 years, the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest has entertained and educated visitors to the Forest Home Cemetery with its annual tombstone tour that features costumed actors. There are plenty of famous, historically significant people buried there, but this year tour-goers learned of the lesser known.
On Oct. 18, society members and volunteers told the stories of The Strangers Among Us, the title given to this year’s stroll through the Forest Park cemetery. Laurel McMahon, the long-time chairwoman of the event, said there’s always something to be discovered about the area’s history and unearthing the details of most any individual’s life confirms that.
For those who missed the two-hour journey, what follows is a recap of some of the nine stops featured on this year’s tour.
A working-class cartoonist who came to the area from Sweden at the age of 21, Joe Hill was framed for murder following his efforts to unionize copper workers in Utah. He was executed by a firing squad in 1915. Hill wrote a number of songs on the subjects of social justice, including “Rebel Girl,” about a woman named Helen Gurley who is buried near Emma Goldman.
This man’s early photographs of the tri-village area “are the foundation” of the historical society’s collection, according to McMahon. Yet, he belonged to no organizations, no clubs and seemingly had few friends. Barclay would eventually become addicted to the drugs sold at his parents’ pharmacy and commit suicide in a Chicago hotel.
Lillie and Frank Mally
A teenage daughter and her father from Oak Park, both died of the Spanish Flu; she in December 1918 and he in January 1919. “What sort of terror must have been involved in that epidemic,” McMahon said of the wide-spread illness. “What’s old is new again.”
August and Caroline Thode
This Forest Park couple owned a saloon at the corner of Madison and Desplaines, “the largest of its kind,” according to a 1906 accounting of what was then the community of Harlem. But the family had a secret: August was a Druid. As a member of the largest fraternal group buried at Forest Home, the values of August Thode are represented by the Druid monument with the figure of Merlin perched at the top.
A Gypsy and the patriarch of the Ristick family died in 1915 and he was to buried in German Waldheim cemetery, which had a history of accepting those who weren’t welcome elsewhere. Approximately 60 members of his traveling brood set up camp in Thatcher Woods with their dogs and about 30 horses. Community members were uneasy with the presence of so many Gypsies, but visited the camp to take photos and have their fortunes told.