Last weekend was busy for me. On Friday night, I celebrated my birthday by dining at The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant with two of my high school classmates. I brought along a copy of the Review that mentions the restaurant. They treated us like royalty. 

When it was time to relocate, we met at O’Sullivan’s for more drinks. They enjoyed the festive atmosphere. One of them said if he lived in Forest Park, he’d be there every night. I saw them again on Saturday, when we celebrated our 50th High School reunion at St. Ignatius College Prep.

When we arrived, a student gave us a very complete tour of the school. We were seeing many of the rooms for the first time. The school is like an art museum now. Back when we attended, it was generally considered a dump.

After the reunion Mass, we got reacquainted during the cocktail hour and dinner. One of my classmates spent the first 37 years of his life living in Forest Park. We had a great time reminiscing about the village. When I gave him our previous address on Beloit, he correctly identified our across-the-street neighbor. With other friends, our common bond was running for the cross country team. The reunion rekindled many friendships. We’re still hanging out after half a century. 

I was scheduled to perform at Forest Home Cemetery the next day. I was understandably nervous because I hadn’t memorized my part. I was wearing a vintage costume and would portray River Forest attorney Felix Griffen. My co-star, Sean Bernard, was playing architect William Drummond. Our common bond was that we both love River Forest.

This was the 31st Annual Tale of the Tombstones and the theme was “Designing Community.” Over 200 people braved the chilly weather to take the tour. The only bad part about acting was that we missed the performances of the other actors. They portrayed Oak Park pioneer Betty Kettlestrings, a milliner named Flora Gill, and a community organizer named Lenin Pellegrino, among others.

My role required me to play an old man, which was quite a stretch. I carried a cane, so the audience could suspend their disbelief. I planned to base my performance on Hedly Lamar, the crooked lawyer from the film Blazing Saddles. 

Sean played Drummond in a more straightforward manner. Sean is a “young whippersnapper” of 35. Our script contained long speeches by both of us. So we decided to interrupt each other to create a more natural exchange. We had good chemistry and our banter caused audiences to laugh at the right times. I chose to play it like Hedly because River Forest did snatch a little land from Forest Park. 

Griffen describes how the “leading families” of western River Forest heard that the eastern section, which included Forest Park, was going to incorporate as the Village of Harlem. As Griffen, I complained that the eastern section was populated by German immigrants, who drank beer. They patronized taverns whereas Griffen was a staunch champion of Temperance.

To keep the taverns out of River Forest, Griffen persuaded a Chicago judge to allow River Forest to incorporate one day before the Village of Harlem incorporated. Forest Park became his “Rock Ridge” because this maneuver allowed River Forest to snatch the north side of Madison Street from Lathrop to Thatcher.  

I really enjoy the Tale of the Tombstones tours. The only thing missing is more involvement by the Forest Park Historical Society. It would be great to see more Forest Parkers playing characters. The cemetery, after all, is in the part of “Rock Ridge” we still own. 

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.