“All are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping by the River.”
These were words sung by Forest Park History Singer Kathryn Atwood Saturday at the world premiere adaptation of Des Plaines River Anthology, a group literary project written by local authors, compiled by the Historical Society of Forest Park and released this weekend.
Where are Clarence, Belle, Mike, Justin and Mary,
The physician, the temptress, the celebrity, the young lovers?
All, all are sleeping by the river.
Almost 100 people attended two performances of the book’s adaptation in the third floor of the Park District of Forest Park administration building. The show was created and directed by local director Amy Binns-Calvey and performed by 13 local actors. All proceeds went to the historical society.
From Ernest Hemingway’s parents and grandmother, to bike-historian Philander Walker Barclay, from serial killer Belle Gunness to Forest Park police officer Michael Caulfield — killed in the line of duty– actors gave voice to the ghosts of the residents of Forest Park’s five local cemeteries.
Binns-Calvey, co-author of the long-running play “Flannagan’s Wake” and a founder of the Noble Fool Theater Company gathered and rehearsed the actors into a smooth-running hour long performance.
Once in a generation, I reckon, it comes like a whisper.
Like a single heartbeat on the wind.
As the sun melts over the babbling Des Plaines.
James Smart and Miranda Binns-Calvey played James Justin and Mary Manthey, local lovers drowned in the 1915 Eastland Ship disaster. Charles Burroughs, co-founder with his wife Margaret of the DuSable Museum of African American Culture, was performed by J.J. McCormick.
Hemingway’s parents were performed by Katrina Kiss and Jimmy Binns, and his grandmother Caroline Hancock Hall by Ruth Kaufman, who also played “Where’s the Beef” commercial star Clara Peller.
Abraham Van Shoick, a Civil War vet who died in Forest Park at age 92 was performed by Glenn Braun, who also played Albert Parsons, a Haymarket martyr. Other Haymarket figures were Lucy Parsons (Katrina Kiss), Oscar Neebe (Jimmy Binns) and Louis Lingg (Brendan Kelly). Mary Olivieri performed as anarchist earth mother Emma Goldman.
Oliveri also played Norwegian landlady and serial killer Belle Gunness. James Smart played slain Forest Park officer Michael Caulfield and Miranda Binns-Calvey performed as Maria the Palm Reader, a Roma (gypsy) character who perished in an influenza epidemic. Mick Houlihan performed as the drug-addicted bicycle historian Philander Barclay.
Darren Stephens stole the show as temperance-loving megapreacher Billy Sunday and Hollywood producer and Liz Taylor’s third husband Michael Todd.
Amy Binns-Calvey’s touches and arrangement moved the show smoothly from one soliloquy to the next. Preacher Billy Sunday was heckled by the Anarchists from Radical Row. The Roma (gypsy) palm reader glanced at the palm of Belle Gunness as she passed and shook her head.
Paul and Barry Winder, two brothers who perished in the Iroquois Fire Disaster in 1903 were played by Brady Comenduley and Graham Wielgos.
Wieglos returned at the end of the play as 13-year-old Allen Holst from Forest Park, whose life ended with his mother and siblings in the Iroquois Theater fire.
Oh, what I could have been?
I often dream about that…
If, indeed, ghosts may be said to dream.
Sadly, that part of the story is left unwritten.
Musical accompaniment was provided by Kathryn and John Atwood, Dan Hoenisch, and Marcus and Deborah Hostetler.
Concept started in 2007
From concept to fruition, the Des Plaines River Anthology project has been a dream of Augie Aleksy, the owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. He told the Review he envisioned the project during the Forest Park centennial in 2007, when he started to hear about the colorful characters resting in Forest Park’s cemeteries.
Aleksy assembled an editorial team and wrote personal letters to his favorite local authors asking them if they’d like to participate. Authors donated their work to the anthology.
Local Forest Park publisher Emily Victorson published the poetry anthology through her company Allium Press. Victorson took care of the book’s layout and used her print-on-demand connections to print the 124-page anthology just in time for the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest’s Tale of the Tombstones walk Oct. 20. Victorson wrote a piece for the book but also corralled the work of 20 different authors and edited them to smooth consistency. She credited Aleksy’s relationships with authors as the glue that held the project together.
“Augie has done such a wonderful job here of creating a community for writers and authors,” Victorson told the Review. “He’s been so supportive of them that they are willing to do things for him.”
The book will certainly make history as an artifact both of the history of Forest Park and our own time. As little Allen Holst said in the play:
We are all here for such a short time.
When we part, our memory is all we leave behind.
So remember me,
Remember me, as I hope someone will remember you.
This story has been updated to correct Miranda Binns-Calvey’s name.