Joe May only lived in Forest Park for six months back in 1957, though the Irish-American joked, “I’ve been coming to Forest Park all my life to drink.” May’s interest in the town goes beyond the occasional brew, though. He has gathered over 90 vintage postcards of Forest Park and has graciously loaned his collection to the Forest Park Historical Society.
May was acquainted with the Society’s founder, Dr. Frank Orland, and would like to see it revitalized. The River Forest resident is a lifetime member of the historical society and plans to attend its Oct. 19 public meeting at village hall. In the meantime, though, he has let Mark Rogovin, a society member, scan some of the postcards.
“The postcard was the e-mail of the 1920’s,” May explained. He cited, as an example, a postcard that was mailed from Chicago to Maywood on a Friday in that era. The card was postmarked by the Maywood PO that same day. The urgent message was that the sender couldn’t come to Sunday dinner.
“Postcards were popular from 1910 to the late 1920’s,” said May, but the telephone ended their heyday. Postcards are still in use today, but mostly by vacationers wishing to make their friends envious.
May, a retired furniture-store manager, used to collect postage stamps, but now he belongs to the Windy City Postcard Club, which puts on shows for the public three times a year.
As for his Forest Park collection, May said he is, “more interested in the image than the [inscriptions]” on the postcards. Some of the correspondence is written in German – many of Forest Park’s settlers and early inhabitants were German – which May cannot translate. Others are in English and contain priceless messages.
Two were sent by a 5th grader from School No. 1 (Grant-White Elementary) in 1909. On the back of the postcard bearing a picture of his school, Wilbert (the sender) writes that his teacher likes him very much. The other postcard shows the original Forest Park Town Hall at Circle Avenue and Randolph Street. “This town hall is across the street from our school,” Wilbert writes, “Dis iss our police station, here dey stick me in when I’m naughty.”
Apart from the archaic messages, another quaint characteristic of the postcards is the postage rate. It was one cent for “Domestic, Island Possessions, Canadian and Mexican.” “Foreign” postage cost two cents. Most of the postcards in May’s collection were professionally produced but some contained homemade images.
On one postcard from 1911, a Forest Parker sent a photograph of her home to a correspondent in Wisconsin. “I herewith send you a postal of the house,” she wrote, “Adolph took six of these.”
Another postcard of a Forest Park house includes a portrait of its owner, H. Pallas, a “manufacturer of fine cigars.” His address is listed as 76 S. Desplaines Ave., Harlem, Oak Park, Illinois; he also has an Oak Park phone number listed on the postcard.
Most of the postcards May has depict local churches, schools and businesses. Some were used by businesses and organizations as a way to communicate with potential customers, members or donors – similar, in concept, to the blast emails and newsletters of today.
Many of the postcards are black and white, but May also has color images of the Forest Park Amusement Park, the interior of Otto’s Restaurant, and St. Bernardine’s Church, among others.
The collector said finding Forest Park postcards was no easy task because many were not produced in great numbers. Oak Park postcards, though, are plentiful.
“The C.R. Childs Co. did 200 postcards of Oak Park,” he said, “I have a hundred of them.” It’s fitting that the future postcard collector played baseball on the lot next to the Childs building when he was growing in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.
May gets a special satisfaction when he finds a structure depicted on a postcard still standing in Forest Park. The former Hughes Hall still dominates the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Madison Street. Further west on Madison Street, the Hain Building that once housed a department store is still home to businesses. There is also an image from 1914 of the house at 7626 Adams St; it looks pretty much the same today as it did when the photo was taken for the postcard, Mays said.
Other Forest Park structures are gone, along with the streetcars that sped past them. The former municipal building that was home to the Forest Park Library has disappeared from Desplaines Avenue. The Soo Line station, which carried picnickers on day trips to Wisconsin, has vanished. And so too have a number of Forest Park’s original school buildings.
May’s collection even contains the kind of postcards vacationers sent to make the folks at home jealous. “Greetings from Forest Park” features colorful “Selected views of Forest Park, IL.” Another vibrant card shows a boy and a girl dressed in Dutch costume. “Forest Park: Dere iss somedings dot alvays brings me here.”