The Historical Society of Forest Park mixed business with pleasure at their annual meeting on Oct. 27. About 40 members came to the sanctuary of 1st United Church of Christ to conduct formal business and watch a presentation by a panel on their continuing efforts to locate and recover the Haymarket Time Capsule.
President Jerry Lordan kicked things off with a brief speech about the state of the society. “The mission of the historical society is to be a vital part of Forest Park and promote quality of life in our community. We study the past to understand the present, to prepare for the future.”
Lordan said Forest Park’s resources were recognized by Vincent Michael, who travels the world identifying assets in various countries for the United Nations. Dr. Michael identified Forest Park’s assets as its cemeteries, its long association with labor unions, and its railroads.
Lordan also mentioned the Forest Park Boy Scout troop that traveled to Galena to participate in a Civil War parade. The scouts researched residents of Forest Park who were involved in the Civil War. Besides these veterans, Lordan said villagers should remember the presence of the Potawatomi tribe that lived along the Des Plaines River.
But in addition to the village’s past, he said, “We want to shape the future of Forest Park. We’re fortunate to have [1st United] church as a cultural center.” He spoke of the society partnering with the Boy Scouts, a Spanish language school in town, and a school of Irish dance. Their newest partner is SWAG Theater Group, which has been using the facility all summer to rehearse their new production, Fiddler on the Roof.
Treasurer Chris Everett reported that the society was receiving income of $600 per week, but it needs $2,000 per week. She said renewing memberships every October helps, because the building needs extensive repairs. The society is applying for a grant to fix the church and having strong membership is key to getting the grant.
There have been leadership changes at the society. Longtime Executive Director Diane Grah left to take a position at the Orland Park Historical Society. She was replaced by Amy Turilli, who is assisted by History Director Alexis Ellers. Turilli said the society’s most pressing concern is its home. “The building needs to be brought up to code and be made ADA accessible.” An artist herself, she also wants to promote art and culture in the community.
Vice President Augie Aleksy said he was proud of the cultural programs the society hosted in 2016. These included a community concert, a presentation on early African American music, a tour of Radical Row at Forest Home Cemetery and the Prohibition Tour on Madison Street. He also spoke of the society’s involvement in GarArt, the Juneteenth Parade and the casket race, where Abe Lincoln helped them cross the finish line.
Jill Wagner spoke of acquisitions the society made during the year, including the Wolf Bros. stained glass window, hard copies of the Forest Park Review from 1949 to 2013 and a “stunning” quilt from 1923 portraying Forest Park businesses.
Maui Jones, founder of the SWAG Theater Group, is one of the new board members elected at the meeting; the others include Noel Eberline, Terry Steinbach and the husband-and-wife team of Amy and Jeff Binns-Calvey. Liz Carpenter was elected to serve as Treasurer.
Like a needle in the Haymarket
Next up was the Haymarket presentation. Panelists included labor historian Mark Rogovin, research librarian Bleue Benton, Lake Forest College Professor Rebecca Graff, a student named Chris Fitzgerald who participated in the dig, and Larry Spivack from the Illinois Labor History Society.
Spivack started with a PowerPoint presentation about the Haymarket Tragedy, tracing the history of the movement for an 8-hour day and 40-hour work week in the U.S. This led to a protest at the McCormick Plant, on May 3, 1886, where Chicago Police shot and killed several protesters. The Haymarket rally was held the next day to protest police violence.
“Only 2,500 people showed up,” Spivack said, “The weather was terrible.” It was a peaceful meeting until the Chicago Police arrived and someone threw a dynamite bomb at their feet.
One policeman was killed by the bomb and seven officers died altogether. A group of labor activists were arrested for inciting violence. They were tried and convicted by a “kangaroo court,” Spivack said. Four of them were hanged on Nov. 10, 1887. They sang “La Marseillaise” as they walked to the gallows. May 1 was designated International Labor Day in their honor.
Rogovin described the Haymarket Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery as, “the most important labor monument in the world.” It was once surrounded by an ornate fence and he recognized Nicole Grinbarg, a DePaul student, who used a metal detector to locate the metal bases for the fence.
Bleue Benton spoke of the 2½ year search attempting to locate the time capsule, which was buried somewhere near the monument. Recently, over 100 volunteers helped in the search and attempted recovery. She showed the audience a line drawing they found of two men lowering the time capsule with ropes into the soil near the monument. She also found references to it in the minutes of the Pioneer Aid Society, which erected the monument.
“This all came about through old-fashioned library research,” Benton said.
Dr. Graff showed slides about Urban Archeology in Chicago and the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument. She described how a survey was made of the cemetery, using ground-penetrating radar. She showed an animation of the survey, which depicted objects buried near the monument.
Fitzgerald spoke of the difficulties of digging up those objects in the pouring rain in early October.
“We found a cylinder,” he said. “We learned about labor unrest and how it relates to present-day movements like Black Lives Matter.”
“We didn’t find the capsule,” Graff admitted, “but we haven’t given up. It was a wonderful collaborative effort.”
The plan, at this point, is to do more research, which involves translating notes written in old German, which has until now posed a challenge.