I thought my acting career was over until the Oak Park-River Forest Historical Society cast me in their 20th Annual “Tale of the Tombstones” tour at Forest Home Cemetery. I’ll be making my comeback on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. I’ve been asked to play Adolph Sabath, a Czech immigrant who rose to become one of our longest-serving member of Congress.
It’s a juicy role and when I read the snappy script by Kurt Etchingham, I was hooked. It’s been years since I appeared on the cemetery stage. I started my career there as a guide for the tour but kept getting my group lost. There are still occasional sightings of my 2006 group wandering among the tombstones. The society thought it safer to make me an actor.
I had a good run for a while. I played William Grunow, standing in front of his magnificent mausoleum. Grunow made a fortune selling radios before amassing a second fortune selling chickens. It was fun dressing up and pretending to be rich. They later let me play a Knights of Columbus member, complete with uniform and sword. I was careful not to strike anyone with the sword but I yanked it out so dramatically, the scabbard flew through the air and struck a woman in the leg.
After that, the roles dried up. Like many veteran actors, I became too old to play sword-wielding knights. I was content to retire from showbiz, until this role came along.
However, Adolph Sabath is just one of the fascinating characters coming back to life on the 16th. We have the set designer who first brought The Wizard of Oz to the stage, wowing audiences with an erupting volcano. We have the proud mother of an Olympic runner from River Forest. Another woman will tell us how her husband’s company became the largest supplier of tents in the U.S. He provided canvas to circuses, carnivals and revivals before his life ended in tragedy. Another person you’ve probably never heard of was a card-carrying member of the International Alliance of Bill Posters and Billers Local 1.
That’s the beauty of Forest Home, the cemetery welcomes everyone, from business tycoons to humble workingmen. We do have one celebrity, though. Billy Sunday was a star player for the Cubs before becoming an evangelist, who preached to millions.
These performances have an advantage over mine. They use real actors.
Still, I’m going to memorize my two-page script and resurrect Sabath on the Sabbath. He was that rarest of creatures, a crusading congressman, pushing progressive ideas. Many of his causes championed the rights of people, who, like him, came from humble circumstances. Thanks to his efforts, several of these causes became law.
He was way ahead of his time in advocating for the elderly, the working class and people of color. He was as feisty as they come, fighting for his constituents. And being from Chicago and representing a district that included the cemetery, he probably picked up a few votes from Forest Home during the course of his long career. He can be seen as a machine politician or an enlightened leader, depending on your viewpoint.
So if you’d like to learn more about characters from the worlds of sports, politics, religion and the theater, come to the cemetery at 12:30 this Sunday. Tickets are $15, $10 for historical society members. Call 708-848-6755, or visit www.oprfhistory.org.
I promise no sword as a prop this time but certainly a cigar for those smoke-filled rooms.
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.