Volunteers staff the Forest Park Historical Society four days a week, organizing the collection, assisting researchers and responding to inquiries. I’m part of the bunch that works Tuesday mornings. When we’re not stumbling on such treasures as a striking photo of Liz Taylor attending Michael Todd’s funeral, we’re history detectives.

For example, we came across a leather-bound Bible a Union soldier had carried in his shirt pocket throughout the Civil War. There was a note accompanying the Bible that bore the name and phone number of a Chicago attorney. When I called, I learned he was a grade-school classmate I hadn’t seen in decades.

I immediately apologized for breaking his glasses in seventh grade, an incident he also hadn’t forgotten. That settled, we caught up on our current lives, before discussing the Bible. He didn’t recognize the name on the Bible and couldn’t fathom why his name and phone number were associated with it.

When I complained to my Tuesday morning cohorts about the dead end, John Cline searched a file and pulled out the family history of Abraham Van Schoick. We quickly learned he had served five years in the 15th New York Volunteer Engineer Regiment with his brother Benjamin.

Though they were German immigrants, the Van Schoick’s were fiercely patriotic. Abraham’s father, Dr. William Van Schoick, donated $10,000 in gold pieces to buy shoes for the boys in blue. He later gave much more. After enlisting as a physician-surgeon and setting up a hospital in Marshville, Tenn., he died of undulant fever.

Meanwhile, his two sons marched in advance of the main army, rebuilding bridges the Confederates had burned. They survived several major battles and were still serving when the South surrendered. After the war, Abraham migrated to Chicago and became a streetcar operator.

At the age of 72, he moved to 635 Beloit, where he planted a showcase garden that drew many admirers. He was never sick a day in his life, until he started feeling poorly on Dec. 21, 1928. He died five days later at the age of 92 and is buried in Forest Home Cemetery. The Civil War veteran will be celebrated in the upcoming “Des Plaines River Anthology.” I want to thank John, Jackie, Sylvia, Rick and Larry for their assistance in uncovering his story.

I researched another soldier for the anthology, Eddie Balchowsky. He was a concert pianist who fought against the fascists in Spain in 1936. He left his right arm in Spain but continued his career as an accompanist, playing with Tom Waits, Stan Getz and the Mamas and Papas. His grand-nephew, Jeff Balch, loaned our society a cassette tape and CD containing Eddie’s words and remarkable piano playing.

If anyone else wants to play history detective, call 708-232-3747. We have openings four days a week.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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