I never went to a high school dance and I definitely wasn’t the kind of girl who aspired to ride atop the homecoming float. In fact, anytime the Forest Park Review asks if I want to throw candy in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I’m quick to point out that I bartend on Saturday nights, so I can’t be getting up early to be in the parade when I’ll be up late dealing with its drunken aftermath.
In spite of all of this, I literally squealed with joy when I got an email from Augie Aleksy asking if I would be interested in being the Forest Park Flapper for the Centuries and Sleuths entry in the Casket Races that are coming up on Saturday, Oct. 27. I would get to ride in the casket and dress up like a flapper ghost.
My reply was, “I would LOVE to be!!!!” Yep, “love” was capitalized and there were four exclamation points. I could’ve filled an entire line with exclamation points, but I didn’t want Augie to think I was crazy and rescind his offer. Of course, he knew that about me. The reasons he gave for reaching out to me, after discussing it with his wife, Tracy, were that I’m “sleek and aerodynamic” – lightweight enough that I won’t slow the folks pushing the casket – and “I don’t think you’d mind dressing up a little.” Yep, as a former goth girl, I don’t mind doing ghost make-up, and I always love an excuse to go vintage dress shopping.
But fashion aside, I’ve been excited about the Casket Races for over a year, since Augie first told me that the Historical Society was hoping to come together with the Chamber to hold them. It sounded like such a Forest Park event – yes, we’re a city of cemeteries, but we’re not morbid folk. We love our parades and celebrations, and we have a great sense of humor. I’m truly honored to be a part of it – and glad that all of that jogging in the cemetery has paid off to make me ideal casket-riding weight!
Augie also mentioned that he had big ideas for the casket – top-secret ideas that I’ve been forbidden to share – but needed builders. I volunteered my husband, Scott, who, as the son of a carpenter, is rather handy. When I informed Scott of this, I expected that weary look people give their partners when being roped into something, but instead an expression of childlike wonderment crept across his face.
“I loved building Pinewood Derby cars as a kid,” he told me. “This would be like building a big one.”
“Except cooler because it’s a casket!” I added. (Like I said, former goth girl, current cemetery jogger, and forever vampire buff.)
So he joined up with Augie and another one of Augie’s friends to create what Augie calls a casket with “historical flavor.” I haven’t seen it yet, though I will be getting sized up for the seat soon.
Want to get your own Casket Race team together? Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Chamber, encourages residents, non-residents, and business owners to join in the fun. Rules and entry forms are available at exploreforestpark.com or in person at the Chamber office (7331 W. Roosevelt Road inside Forest Park National Bank). Sept. 28 is the sign-up deadline.
Otherwise, I hope you’ll come out to see me realize a dream I didn’t know I had on Oct. 27 along Madison Street. The racing starts at 9:30 a.m. I do have to bartend that night, but it will be worth it!
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.