It was quite a year for stories! I kicked off the year by complaining about the overuse of exclamation marks! I had an unprecedented meeting with our new generation of leaders at Shanahan’s. I also got to cover a heartwarming event at the firehouse, when firefighters and their families presented needy children with warm coats. On Valentine’s Day, we pulled off another FoPaPalooza, showcasing a flock of talented Forest Park musicians. One of the songs was about the “Eastland” disaster.
Speaking of Forest Park history, I gave a presentation at the library about “When Cleopatra Came to Forest Park.” Elaine Luther showed up with her souvenir scarf, “Famous Headstones of Forest Park.” The images on the silk scarf included “The Death of Cleopatra” statue and its sculptor Edmonia Lewis.
The excitement continued in February, with Ralph Di Febo conducting presentations about his proposal to turn Altenheim property into a park and concert venue. I attended so many of Ralph’s presentations, I memorized his talk. Although Ralph didn’t win the Big Idea grant, a village committee has just been established to study his proposal.
In March, Smokey Joel’s opened up at 810 Beloit, serving hot dogs, home-style Italian beef and Italian ice. Joel’s stand was a hit with schoolkids. Speaking of which, I covered the Dr. Seuss Read-in at Garfield School and spoke in rhyme for the next several weeks. It was also gratifying to see a piece of Forest Park history saved when Mark Hosty donated the Wolf Bros. stained glass window to the Historical Society, where it was painstakingly restored by Steve Backman.
Wingstop opened its doors at 1215 S. Harlem and I wrote a rare story celebrating a chain restaurant. At the same time, we lost the Saigon Pho restaurant to greener pastures in Oak Park. Meanwhile, I visited McGaffer’s, learning that the tavern had once been owned by Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. Pat Malone showed me the basement workshop where they made headstones and benches.
Chris Guillen Photography left its longtime home at 7451 Madison. However, Chris continues his long-term commitment to clients. In April, I stumbled on the Forest Park Walking Group and led them on a tour of Concordia Cemetery. We also did a tour of Forest Home Cemetery. Over 40 people showed up on a rainy morning.
That spring, Empowering Gardens Inc. opened their garden center on Madison Street, just west of Famous Liquors, employing adults with disabilities. Meanwhile, at Yearbook, Henry the Bulldog launched his unsuccessful run for President of the United States. I don’t remember who beat him. I also attended my first-ever Passover feast and found the Jewish faith to be one of inclusion and compassion — two qualities we need now more than ever.
My biggest story of the year came in May when I discovered the saga of the B-17 crew shot down in 1944 over Germany. The pilot, Dugald Leitch from Forest Park, did not lose a single member of the 10-man crew. They all survived the war behind the barbed wire of Stalag Luft III, of “Great Escape” fame. For more Forest Park history, I served as one of the guides for the Historical Society’s Prohibition Tour of taverns.
Speaking of which, I covered the opening of a modern-day speakeasy, Kinslahger Brewing Company. Jef Anderson of Yearbook came up with the vintage design for the tap room. I did another historical presentation at the library about Showmen’s Rest. It was well-attended, but my presentation on Weird Forest Park was cancelled. Strange.
Amy’s Winehouse opened at 7235 W. Roosevelt after an extensive renovation of the former Frank’s Shoe Repair & Skate Shop. I even opened my own business, Write on Madison. We haven’t held classes yet but have been busy helping individuals with their writing. The library turned 100, so we celebrated that, too.
I discovered the wonders of ReUse Depot, which is located just west of Forest Park, on Madison. I covered the construction of a large-scale American flag. It was painted by Forest Park Boy Scouts for the 4th of July. I covered even bigger projects there, like the giant Sun & Moon sculptures and the Urban Buddha, who now sits in Chicago’s Grant Park.
A column I wrote about a need for civility in our society earned me an invitation to tour the Ferrara Pan Candy factory. What a treat! Our Homies lunch group celebrated six years of monthly get-togethers at Forest Park restaurants. I also got to cover another social gathering: Joe Donoghue’s annual 8-Track party. The fun continued with the 3rd Annual GarArt, where hosts opened their garages for artists to exhibit their work. It is the only event of its kind in the world.
One of my biggest thrills was interviewing Paralympic Gold Medalist Brian Bell. My wife also got her first byline, reporting on Brian’s basketball exhibition at Garfield School. Like many of you, I was preyed upon by IRS imposters and computer hackers. I attended my most memorable wedding ceremony, when Kevin Crisham and Lesley Seibel tied the knot on Field One at The Park.
I had the privilege of honoring the late Maggie Hanrahan. There was a really hot story involving the alleged discovery of a time capsule near the Haymarket Martyrs Monument. Despite the Herculean efforts of a team of archeologists and historians, the capsule remains at large. Also at Forest Home, I got to play deceased politician Adolph Sabath, during the “Tale of the Tombstones” tour. It was fun puffing on a fake cigar.
I discovered a piece of my own family history when the fire department found their old harness equipment and an endorsement of the product by my great-grandfather, Chicago Fire Marshal James Horan. I signed an unsuccessful petition to put video gaming on the ballot. I’m neutral on the issue but want it put to a vote. I had the privilege of interviewing Dorothy Gillian about winning the Kiwanis Award for community involvement.
Cubs win! Cubs win! For the first time ever, I compiled election results for the newspaper and learned 85 percent of us were not happy with the outcome. Finally, I celebrated the new and improved Silverland Bakery.
Speaking personally, 2016 was a year of ups and downs. I lost a teaching job but finished a novel. They say when one door closes, another opens. I hope doors continue to open for all of us in 2017.
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.