This is William C. Grunow speaking to you from my magnificent mausoleum in Forest Home Cemetery. I’m in the southwest corner of the cemetery, right near where Roosevelt Road crosses the Des Plaines River.
It’s normally lonely out here, but I had over 200 visitors on Oct. 17. These people were on the “Tale of the Tombstones Tour,” which is organized by the Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest. They also visited my neighbors, Billy Sunday, Grace Hall Hemingway, Frank Pellegrino, Adam Heyer and Hannah Beye Fyfe.
If some of these names don’t ring a bell, Frank was a charter member of the Communist Party USA. Hannah was a champion for women’s rights. Adam was the bookkeeper for the “Bugs” Moran gang and died in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. They were portrayed by fine actors. With such illustrious neighbors, why would they visit me?
I was born dirt poor on Chicago’s West Side but amassed two fortunes in completely different industries. I made my first fortune by manufacturing radios and my second one by selling chicken. The Majestic Radio was manufactured by me and my partner, B.J. Grigsby. Radios used to run on expensive batteries but the Majestic ran on AC current. It was the “Alexa” of its time. We sold over 2,500,000 radios and employed 15,000 workers.
Grigsby and I became multi-millionaires. I built the mansion at 915 Franklin, in River Forest. It’s the largest home in the village! It was later occupied by Tony Accardo, but his “associates” didn’t like him living in such an attention-getting residence.
Today, it’s occupied by the Jimenez family, who operate the Carniceria Jimenez grocery chain. I’m so happy that another family in the food business lives in my house. You should check it out at Christmas time because the Jimenez family puts on a glorious display.
My present home was built in 1929 for a cost of $232,000. That would be 3.7 million in today’s dollars. It was designed like a Greek temple and the granite was hauled here from Vermont. It features two statues, “The Spirit of Commerce” and “The Spirit of Radio.” Since spirits are invisible, the sculptor used the Greek god Hermes to represent “Commerce” and the goddess Nike to portray “Radio.”
After this was built, I was forced out of my own company. I spent a million dollars to start a company manufacturing refrigerators and radios but it went bankrupt. Fortunately, I had saved enough money to purchase a 500-acre estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I raised chickens on my 18-hole golf course. My biggest innovation was cutting up the chickens and packaging the parts, the way chicken is sold today.
My Val-Lo-Will stores, named for my kids, Valerie, Lois and William Jr., were highly successful. My business career ended when I succumbed to a heart attack in 1951 at the age of 58. My kids turned my Lake Geneva estate into Majestic Hills Ski Resort.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m hoping the people of Forest Park will launch their own tour featuring actors portraying my neighbors. They could hold theirs in the spring, so it won’t conflict with the “Tombstones” tour. I’m sure there’s plenty of acting talent in town, apart from the rank amateur who portrayed me.
Why should history buffs from Oak Park and River Forest have all the fun? The cemeteries belong to Forest Park residents like myself. I think you should form a committee to get the ball rolling. While you’re at it, could you check to see if my voter’s registration card is still valid?