1977 was a somber year in Forest Park, a sharp contrast to the heady festivities the village held in 1976 to celebrate its centennial anniversary. Mayor Howard Mohr died suddenly; an “L” train plunged to the pavement and Michael Todd’s grave was robbed. There were also some happier moments: the new and expanded Oktoberfest on Roosevelt Road, Sgt. Richard Archambault’s miraculous survival of two gunshots and 10-year-old Ronald Dalton skating his way into the Guinness Book of World Records. 

All of these events were captured in the pages of the Forest Park Review. The publisher and editor was now Robert Haeger, who succeeded the late Claude A. Walker. The newsstand price had risen from 10 cents to 15 cents. It featured a crack reporter named Judy Topinka. She went to become a popular politician, who served as state treasurer and ran for governor. A young teacher named Jackie Schulz started writing her “Talk of the Town” column. 

New Year’s Day 1977 got off to a rousing start. The FBI conducted gambling raids on three locations in Forest Park. They netted $9,200 in cash and extensive gambling records from local characters, like Sam Samarcco. Forest Park police also conducted a crackdown on dog owners, making them “responsible for removal of any excreta.”

January 12, 1977 began as a joyful day for many villagers but soon turned. Sixty of them had traveled to Springfield by bus to celebrate the retirement of State Senator Howard R. Mohr. Three hours before the ceremony was to begin, Mohr slumped to the floor of a coffee shop and never regained consciousness. He was only 51 years old. Governor Jim Thompson and his wife paid their respects at his funeral. A few weeks later, the village council voted to re-name the Community Center in his honor. 

To succeed Mohr, the village council unanimously appointed Santo Rizzo as mayor Rizzo had liked his third grade teacher so much, he took Miss Helen Imber to dinner at Giannotti’s. Imber later willed a $1,000,000 to the Forest Park Public Library to build its present home. The Review recognized librarian Cora Salee for compiling a topical history of Forest Park, while Joe Sansone was named “Citizen of the Year.”

Sansone was a long-time business owner in Forest Park and business was booming in the village. Lee Choi Restaurant opened inside the Park Lounge (now O’Sullivan’s) and Venture Restaurant began a long run at Des Plaines & Madison (now Big Boss). Business was too good at Stormy Monday, The Ending and Olde Towne West that these “singles bars” were suspended for overcrowding. 

A very unusual store also opened, at 7413 Madison, too. Erots Pants & Plants offered a free house plant with any purchase. Forest Park National Bank published a report showing its financial condition to be solid.  Home prices rose, ranging from $31,000-$47,000. In other residential news, the council wanted no part of approving Section 8 housing at 1020 Des Plaines. The council also admitted that the village could no longer afford insurance premiums and would become self-insured. 

They couldn’t predict how that would work out but the Review did run a horoscope, “Your Week Ahead” by Damis. It offered practical predictions like, “spring cleaning can really lift your spirits, yard work, too. Homework of any kind is fun.” This feature was among many columns that filled the Review. There was “Keepin’ Healthy” by Mary Richards, offering home remedies. “What’s happening at the Schools” was penned by Jodie Henderson.

For the older set, Ruth Pelis wrote “Happenings at Altenheim.” There was “Your Legal Rights,” by Bryant Barry, Jr., Attorney at Law, “Summer Recreation,” by Art Scheiwe.  Two columns covered sports: “Men’s Softball at the Park” and “Recreation Basketball,” by Ron Milchhoefer. 

In other sporting news, wheelchair basketball came to Proviso West High School. The tag line was, “its ability, not disability that counts.” Handwriting expert James Murray completed his training in graphoananalysis and started his long running column for the Review.  Finally, Congressman Henry Hyde railed against liberalism in his “Washington Memo.” He complained about “Aliens on the Gravy Train” and warned that, “universal voter registration was an invitation to fraud.” 

Not long after Mayor Mohr’s death, the village was rocked again on February 4. A CTA elevated train was negotiating the turn at Wabash & Lake, when it struck the train ahead. Several cars plunged to the ground. 11 passengers were killed, including Forest Parkers Gail Wolniewicz, 23, and Marion McKeag, 45.  

Another tragedy of sorts occurred on June 27, when grave robbers stole the remains of Michael Todd, the Oscar-winning producer of “Around the World in 80 Days” and Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband. Todd had been killed in an air crash, on March 22, 1958. He was worth between $3 and $5 million at the time of his death and was rumored to be wearing an expensive ring. He was buried in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. Taylor was a frequent visitor to his grave and the Review reported that she stopped at the Golden Steer Restaurant following one of her visits. 

The robbers stole Todd’s remains, which were in a rubber bag. On August 24, private detective Anthony J. Pellicano located this bag in the underbrush, while newspaper reporters and CBS News looked on. The Review opined, “Todd, a man who liked to live high, would not be happy that the fine for grave robbery was less than a hundred dollars.”

In a happier cemetery story, Sgt. Richard Archambault pursued three white suspected drug dealers into Forest Home Cemetery. The suspects fired two shots at him. One hit his thumb, while the second was stopped by his police star. “I guess I was just lucky,” Archambault said. This didn’t stop him from risking his life again, when there was an armed robbery at the Lazy Lion Pancake House, 8300 Roosevelt. This set off another manhunt in Forest Home. 

In entertainment news, “How Deep is Your Love?” was the hit song of 1977. The movie blockbusters were “Star Wars,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Rocky.” Forest Park no longer had a movie theater but hosted a personal appearance from film critic Gene Siskel. Other celebrities visited the village and its environs, including singer B. J. Thomas, actor Mickey Rooney and drummer Buddy Rich.

Ten year-old Ronald Dalton also wanted to become a celebrity. He wore his roller skates for 16 days to beat the previous world record. The Review reported that wearing skates 24/7 “made playing softball and pool a little more difficult.” 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.