When it comes to local historical society fundraisers, there are small-scale events and large-scale events. Forest Park Historical Society President Augie Aleksy thinks big. The owner of Forest Park’s Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, Aleksy has long been captivated by Edgar Lee Master’s 1915 Spoon River Anthology. Inspired by the work and the wealth of stories from local cemeteries, he undertook an effort to create both an anthology and a performance work based on actual stories of people buried in Forest Park.
Aleksy says the inkling of the idea first hit him in 2007.
“During the Forest Park centennial, I volunteered to man the Historical Society booth, and while I was there, I was advised about all the cemeteries in Forest Park: how many there are, the differences and the people buried there. It was an enlightenment. I thought of the Spoon River Anthology, and thought it would be great to do with factual people.”
Aleksy found local authors to contribute soliloquies based on the lives of those interred in Forest Park’s cemeteries, and gathered the soliloquies into a book. The roughly thirty tales are told in the first person, but are meant to be historical in nature. From the parents of Ernest Hemingway to Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Mike Todd to victims of the Eastland disaster and Iroquois Theater fire, the tales range from funny to poignant. According to Aleksy, “it’s a good cross cut of society in the Midwest.”
Aleksy used his extensive contact list from the book store to reach out to local writers and was bowled over by the response. “I’m just so impressed with the people who agreed to work on this. It is a regional, literary work of art. I organized it, but everyone else brought it to life. It’s a perfect combination of history and literature.”
Participating writers include Jay Bonansinga, a New York Times best-selling author, Chicago-area novelists Michael Black, Frances McNamara and Stephanie Keuhmert and local historians Robert Loerzel and Richard Lindberg. Emily Victorson edited the book for Allium Press, and Amy Binns-Calvey, founding member of The Noble Fool Theater Company, pulled together the dramatic performance.
The event may be a fundraiser, but in the eyes of Aleksy, it’s so much more. “This event is meant to raise money for the historical society, but there’s no reason you can’t have fun while doing so.”
An original play, adapted from pieces in the book and with original music by Forest Park’s History Singers will take place at the Park District of Forest Park’s building on Saturday, Oct. 26. Performances will take place at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore or by calling the store at (708) 771-7243, through the Historical Society of Forest Park at (708) 232-3747 or on Eventbrite.com. Tickets are $8 for Historical Society Members and $10 for non-members in advance and $15 at the door. Copies of the book will be available at the event and at Centuries and Sleuths.