Forest Park history is hot. More and more people are learning about the village’s colorful past. For example, I led a tour of Forest Home Cemetery for people from the Forest Park Walking Group. May 1 was a crappy, overcast day but 30-40 walkers from all over the Chicago area showed up. I got them occasionally lost as I rattled off information about the monuments and prominent people buried there.
Another well-attended event was the Prohibition Tour sponsored by the Forest Park Historical Society. Many history buffs met at Healy’s, despite the pouring rain. Some were wearing period clothing but didn’t mind getting wet on the outside, while they were getting wet on the inside.
The Forest Park Public Library is getting in on this trend as they celebrate their centennial. Magan Szwarek, the adult services manager, has scheduled three presentations about Forest Park history. The first will be on June 9 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. At the risk of engaging in self-promotion, I’m giving a presentation about the Forest Park Amusement Park.
I first wrote about this lost wonderland, in 1998. Being a cub reporter, I made some rookie mistakes. These were pointed out to me by Historical Society President Dr. Frank Orland. He couldn’t believe that I had the park extending west all the way to 1st Avenue when it actually stopped at the river. I also mentioned that longtime resident Cora Sallee was not permitted to visit the park, because her parents thought it was too rowdy. Frank didn’t swallow that one because Cora was only 2 years old when the park burned down.
Now that I have my story straight, the Historical Society is helping me out by letting us borrow vintage images of the park. They are also letting us bring their display about the park from the museum to the library. It’s amazing to think that we had the Six Flags of its day right at our doorstep. The presentation, like other library events, is free to the public.
I love sharing Forest Park history. I’ve even written a non-fiction book about it that languishes on my computer. I also helped write a historical novel largely set in Forest Park. I enjoy leading tours on foot, bike or bus. Much of the time is spent describing what used to be here, as we’ve been somewhat careless in preserving our history.
Fortunately, our Historical Society has kept the archives that tell the story of long-gone landmarks, like Otto’s Restaurant, Parichy Stadium and the Triangle Café. There are also bits of history that remain, like Showmen’s Rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. I know the Forest Park Walking Group would like me to give them a tour of the victims of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train Tragedy.
I hope to do it soon. Meanwhile, the library is having me give a presentation about it on Aug. 17. My final gig is a presentation about Weird Forest Park, on Oct. 7. That’s kind of a loose title but we have more than our share of weirdness. I’ll be sure to shamelessly promote these events, when we get closer to the dates.
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.