By Maria Maxham
On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce will host its eighth annual Casket Races on the 400 block of Beloit. At least 16 teams will be competing, though last-minute sign-ups are always a possibility.
A locally famous event, drawing hundreds of people from Forest Park and beyond, it's more than just a race; it begins an entire day of Forest Park Halloween events on Madison Street and in other parts of town.
In Forest Park, where it's often mentioned that, due to our cemeteries, there are more dead people than living — some estimate a ratio as high as 56-1 — caskets seem like the appropriate vehicle for racing. In fact, last year the event caught the attention of WGN-TV, which produced a video about the casket races, available on their website.
Prior to the race, each team assembles a casket, often themed. During the race, each casket must hold one person, pushed by a team of four. In past years, contestants have raced with actual caskets, but typically they create their own, using such materials as refrigerators and ice blocks.
Laurie Kokenes, the executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce who brought the event to Forest Park in 2012, said light caskets and fast runners lend themselves to better times.
Awards are given for first, second and third place, and a special "dead last" trophy is awarded as well. But creativity counts, too, because there are also awards for best decorated caskets.
But caskets aren't the only things being judged or with the potential for awards. Many houses on the 400 block of Beloit, where the race is held, participate in festive front-yard parties, some even moving their couches outside, and an award is given to the house with the best celebration.
Pets can participate too; this year's lineup includes a kids' and pets' costume parade after the race, which begins at 11 a.m., and before the trophies are handed out around 12:30 p.m.
New additions to the festivities this year include a DJ who will start spinning tunes at 9 a.m. Food will be sold by Brown Cow and Twisted Cookie, coffee by Counter Coffee and adult beverages, including Bloody Marys and Fireball shots, by Scratch.
Kids' activities will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. In addition to the costume parade, the Forest Park Arts Alliance will host story time, and Forest Park's Bilingual Montessori Lab Academy will provide a craft activity.
Last year, 200-300 people came out to watch the races. This year the chamber is hoping to bring even more spectators to the event.
"We want people to come for the races and stay on Madison Street," said Christine Westphal Barnard of the chamber. Businesses will have special offers and coupons to attract visitors to stick around after the event to shop, eat, drink and have fun in the village.
"We have at least 40 businesses participating in the events, from the casket races to trick-or-treating on Madison afterwards to providing discounts on food for kids in costumes," Barnard said. "This is a great opportunity for people to come out to Forest Park and see what a tremendous town it is while supporting our local businesses."
In addition to the casket races, a day-long lineup of events is scheduled for residents and visitors to Forest Park on Oct. 26.