It was just like old times at the Forest Park Historical Society. I requested the archived information about the Altenheim, a venerable institution I know little about, and was given a thick folder containing newspaper clippings and other historic accounts. The only difference was I was sitting in the basement of President Rich Vitton, not the library.
Vitton has preserved the collection in a well-ordered fashion in what used to be his son Richard’s bedroom. In addition to vintage Review articles, the society has Proviso High School yearbooks going back to 1919, and anniversary books of many of our churches and schools. Best of all, are the mesmerizing photos that capture Forest Park’s past.
I’ve visited historical societies all over Illinois and can say that Forest Park’s is unique. Some “societies” are little more than a space on a library shelf, others have their own buildings. Few, though, have a topical index to their collection. This saves researchers a good deal of hunting. The index is a legacy of the late Cora Sallee, who clipped Review articles for decades and arranged them by subject matter.
Besides this handy tool, the society has so much going for it: A rich history to mine, a newly-elected board and renewed enthusiasm among the public. What it lacks is a permanent home.
Moving the collection to a temporary habitat is in the works, though. The village has agreed to house the society in the building it owns at 7608 Adams St. The third-floor apartment will receive a makeover, including re-connecting utilities. Vitton acknowledged that the apartment will not be ADA accessible. However, requested materials could be retrieved by board members and brought to the library for review.
Making the collection more accessible to the public is one of the goals of the new board. They are also planning a public meeting in August, where a presentation on Forest Park’s past will be made, the direction of the society will be discussed and new members will be able to join. Other events being considered are a wheeled “coffin race” and an evening of Forest Park trivia, with all questions coming from Kenneth Knack’s recent book on our town.
Their third goal is to prominently display the society’s treasures. To this end, Vitton has arranged with the Park District to exhibit photos of the famed Bloomer Girls at the upcoming No Gloves Tournament. Many of the players portrayed in the film “League of Our Own” competed at Forest Park’s Parichy Stadium.
I hope the collection will soon be placed out of flood range and that Richard will get his room back. I’m glad Vitton and his wife, Valda, are getting much-needed help.
By the way, did you know that when the Altenheim first opened it only charged $300 to take care of you for the rest of your life? I didn’t.