In what can only be described as a historic move, the Historical Society of Forest Park’s collection was recently moved from the home of former President Rich Vitton. The town’s historical tangibles are now on display (available to look at with an appointment) in a second-floor space, at 7415 Madison St., that was donated by building owner Art Sundry.
Historical society president Augie Aleksy said he is grateful to Sundry for the beautifully renovated space. He also expressed thanks to the Vitton family for preserving the collection. Mostly, though, he was gratified that the move went so smoothly.
“It was stressful but we kept our sense of humor,” Aleksy said. “I feel good about the society and I’m enthusiastic about our future.”
One of the reasons for his enthusiasm is the makeup of the new board. “You couldn’t have eight, more different people, from different backgrounds,” Aleksy said, “Some of the members have technical expertise, while others are clueless about computers. But all are united behind the society.”
The move would never have happened without the support of the mayor and village officials, Aleksy noted. Mayor Anthony Calderone and his assistant, and historical society board member Sally Cody, were driving forces behind the revitalization of the Society.
Both said they have a serious interest in making Forest Park’s history accessible to the public.
In addition to the artifacts and items that will be shown at the 7415 Madison St. space, other pieces of the historical society’s collection will also be on display at village hall and at the park district. In the case of the latter area, Aleksy hopes to carve out a space to exhibit Forest Park’s sports history.
Making the past more visible to the public is just one of the historical society’s goals; it also aims to provide research opportunities to residents and to serve as a repository for artifacts donated by Forest Parkers. Perhaps its biggest goal, though, is finding a permanent home.
“We want to preserve the histories of our long-standing businesses and families with deep roots in Forest Park,” Aleksy said.
The Forest Park Public Library (where the historical society’s collection was once held) is assisting in this effort, too: they’ve started an oral history project.
Aleksy is also hosting a living part of Forest Park’s history for the annual Holiday Walk & Festival of Windows. Members of the Harlem Manner-und Dammerchor singing group will perform German Christmas carols at Centuries & Sleuths bookstore, 7419 Madison St. “They are part of Forest Park’s heritage,” Aleksy said of the 120 year-old choir. Historical society board members will also be at the bookstore that evening to distribute information and sign up new members.
For those who can’t meet the board members in person, the historical society’s website address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Aleksy mentioned they’ve already received an inquiry from a resident requesting information on the history of her house. He indicated that historic research is one of the services the historical society will offer.
The collection available for residents to see, but, at this point a visit can only be arranged by appointment.
Residents can call the historical society at (708) 232-3747, or mail inquiries to PO Box 1368, Oak Park, IL 60304.
John Rice is a member of the Historical Society of Forest Park.
Nick Moroni contributed to this article.