We lost another pillar of our community on Sept. 23. Not a person who dedicated their life to Forest Park. No, this is one of the polished granite pillars that stood at the entrance to Greenberg Road, off Desplaines Avenue. Right after Rosh Hashanah ended, the south pillar fell with such force, it cracked the roadway. A maintenance worker for Jewish Waldheim Cemetery reported it to the director, David Penzell. He immediately contracted with Bevel Granite Co. to have the pillar transported to a safe place.

David inspected the site and saw there was no metal pin securing the 12,500-pound pillar to its pedestal. “It was just good old gravity holding it in place.” He speculated that a westbound vehicle may have brushed against it, because there was a paint transfer on the surface. David doesn’t see the damage as a costly setback for the cemetery but a chance to improve visibility at the intersection.

The north pillar was still standing but David had it removed for safety reasons. “God forbid it should fall on someone.” He’s going to have Bevel drill holes and insert stainless steel bolts, so they can be remounted more securely. He plans to re-position them to improve the sight lines for motorists. The pillars have served as the gateway to Greenberg Road for countless years. 

This used to be a private road, owned by the cemetery, until it was transferred to the village. It was named for an accountant named Alex Greenberg, who was an associate of the Capone mob. He became the prominent owner of Canadian Ace Brewery after Capone transferred the company to him. Not only is the road named for him, there is an Alex Greenberg Chapel, just north of the road.

The distinctive feature of the pillars is that they are broken off at the top. David said that stone tree trunks broken this way are cemetery symbols for a life that was cut too short. But he’s never seen a pillar symbolizing this. He surmised that, due to the damage, “They may have gotten a good deal on them.” There are engravings on the pillars listing the congregations and the prominent citizens buried there, including a Chicago alderman. 

The pillars also hold a prominent place in my memory. Growing up in Brookfield, the broken pillars would grab my attention, as we drove past. I was less than 6 years old and they were landmarks that told me we were heading to see our relatives in River Forest, or better yet, the Forest Park Pool. “They have a special historic significance,” David said. “That is where they belong.” 

Besides these granite pillars, David told me about a flesh-and-blood pillar the cemetery recently lost. Irwin Lapping worked at the cemetery for 64 years, running the place from his corner office. “He was the brightest, wisest, kindest man I ever met,” David said. “It was an honor and privilege to work with him. He was highly respected in the industry, an innovator, a man of his word.” Shortly before his death in July, David was arguing with Irwin in the ICU about the cemetery’s insurance.

Now that we have honored the stone pillars that symbolize Jewish Waldheim, we intend to honor the man, who meant so much more to the cemetery.

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.

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.