Courtesy the Forest Park Historical Society

No time like the present to reflect on the happenings of the Historical Society of Forest Park, right? Here’s a few achievements, exhibits and initiatives the group plans to expand on in 2018:

On Oct. 18, the society, located on the ground floor of village hall, 517 Desplaines Ave., unveiled its latest installment on cemetery symbolism, an exhibit that features rubbings and illustrations of 12 different symbols found on gravestones inside Forest Home Cemetery. The Historical Society focused on Forest Home because it’s one of the few non-secular cemeteries in the area, which means that those buried didn’t have to feature a symbol specific to any organization on their tomb. 

Insignias include an oak leaf or a handshake, signs from the Fraternal Order of the Free Masons, with descriptors explaining what those symbols mean — if the society knows, that is. 

“For Free Masons, it’s unknown, it’s either for geometry or for God,” said Alexis Ellers, director. 

The society also provides attendees with a guide on where to find the gravestones in Forest Home, should you want to brave the cold for a scavenger hunt. The exhibit will run until April, and is open Monday, 8 a.m to 7 p.m., and Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Currently, the Historical Society is creating two new community quilts, similar to the 1923 Chamber of Commerce quilt in its collection. One quilt will honor Forest Park families, and the other will celebrate local businesses. The society is also in discussion with the American Legion to be the archivist for their Grand Army of the Republic documents, said Brian Kuhr, a Historical Society board member. 

On Nov. 12, the society and Shanahan’s restaurant, 7353 Madison, hosted local veterans for a free meal, and recorded stories from their time in service. Nine veterans attended and shared accounts, which ranged from Commissioner Joe Byrnes speaking of his service in Vietnam to testimonies of time served in Afghanistan, Germany and here at home. 

“It featured a broad spectrum of vets — women and people of color, not just focusing on one type of vet,” Ellers said. “A lot of different perspectives, branches, roles, not just combat vets; everyone who’s involved.” 

The society will continue to collect stories through 2018. 

The Historical Society also hosted its annual May Day event in Forest Home Cemetery near the Haymarket Martyrs Monument, which is a tribute to the anarchists who were executed for their alleged roles in the Haymarket bombing of 1886. German food and speakers honored the history of U.S. labor law. An organizer from Turkey spoke at last year’s event, along with the president of the Illinois Labor History Society, Bleue Benton of the Oak Park library, and more. In 2018, the society hopes to host the event on April 29 at a bigger venue, with more speakers and musicians to sing labor songs. 

In June, the society will again host its twice annual Prohibition Pub Crawl, where attendees dress in period costume (flappers, anyone?) and learn about what was going on in Forest Park during that time. 

In October, Theresa Steinbach was named the new president of the board, after longtime president Jerry Lordan retired the same month. Lordan now serves as secretary. Augie Aleksy also retired as vice president of the board in October, after serving on the board for six years, Kuhr said. Aleksy continues to serve as an auxiliary board member.