An intrepid crew of graduate students from Dominican University is providing invaluable assistance to the Historical Society of Forest Park. They have been coming weekly to organize and catalogue the collection. Why, on the first day alone, they stumbled on the 1839 deed to this region, signed by President Martin Van Buren!
The four student team is supervised by Cecilia Salvatore, who has eight letters after her name, including Ph.D. They are all seeking careers as archivists. On Friday afternoons, they sift through the materials in the society’s file cabinets. Much of the collection consists of yellowed clippings from the Review. This results in a litter of particles and paper clips, which board members don’t mind vacuuming up.
There are also many stunning photographs of Forest Park from its antiquity. As one of the board members who monitor the students, it’s heartwarming to hear their yelps when they come across a compelling image. It’s also gratifying to see them put together the pieces of our history Ð understanding that the upholstered chair in the collection belonged to the guy we named the Community Center after.
This win-win of an arrangement was put in place by a board member who reached out to Dr. Salvatore. Cecilia also has students working at the Chicago History Museum and the Hubbard Street Dancers. One of the appeals of the Forest Park project is its convenience to campus. She views the society as a laboratory for learning archival skills and practices.
The students, though, need to get outside the lab, now and then, to see Forest Park history firsthand. A three-hour tour was conducted. It didn’t include a Gilligan or Mary Ann but we did have a professor. We started off at the Community Center, which was once the site of the Forest Park Amusement Park. Unfortunately, much of the tour involved explaining what used to be here.
Not that we don’t have some impressive structures still standing. One of the students was particularly pleased to see our churches Ð having gone through the church histories at the society. They appreciated the old world look of the Altenheim and the vintage facades along Madison.
They were also shown unique examples of paving brick construction, including the Beacon Tap and a three-story apartment building. Our sprawling cemeteries, though, blew them away. Visiting Showmen’s Rest, the Haymarket monument and the Druid circle gave them a clearer feel for what they had only seen in photographs.
You just can’t escape history in Forest Park. So, when the society treated the tour members to Brown Cow ice cream, the students found themselves surrounded by the classic features of one of our old movie theaters. Some time, before the end of the semester, we’ll buy them a beverage inside a former speakeasy. Hey, it’s all part of historic research.
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.