Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest sponsors 21st annual cemetery tour

Meet the walking, talking dead

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By Jean Lotus

Forest Park Review Editor

The dead come to life — so to speak — this weekend in the award-winning 21st annual "Tales of the Tombstones" historical cemetery walk, which takes place in Forest Home/German Waldheim Cemetery, 863 S. Desplaines Ave., on Oct. 21, starting at 1 p.m.

Costumed characters bring historical stories to life along the winding green paths of the cemetery.

The themed history walk is sponsored by the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest. It was started in 1991when Forest Park Historical Society's then-president, Dr. Frank Orland, asked for help restoring the decaying obelisk monument of Ashbel Steele, an early River Forest pioneer.

"We try to give visitors the history but make it interesting and entertaining too," said OP-RF historical society past president Laurel McMahon, who has been volunteering for the walk since 1997.

McMahon's two daughters have been fans of the walk since they first visited at age 8 and 9. "I took them and the whole tour enthralled them," McMahon recalled. "One of the charms of the tour is that kids can appreciate it."

Now the girls portray characters every year in costumes that McMahon herself sews. "My girls have 'died' in the most gruesome ways for the Historical Society," she quipped, "from serial killer victims, to the Iroquois Fire to disease victims."

This year's visitors will meet Joey Sternaman, the first quarterback of the Chicago Bears, circa 1926, said Frank Lipo, the OP-RF historical society's executive director.

This year, visitors will hear the tragic stories of local Eastland Ship Disaster survivors from 1915. They will see the Tiffany-designed obelisk of E.C. Cummings, local 1920s real estate bigwig, who developed the Forest Park neighborhood he called "Spotless Town" between Harlem and Desplaines and Jackson and Hannah. Visitors will also meet some of the historic heroines of the American labor movement, who were buried by request near the Haymarket Monument, including labor agitator Emma Goldman and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"There's interest in labor issues this year because of the Chicago Teacher's Union strike," said Lipo.

To celebrate the Park District of Oak Park's 100th anniversary, they will meet the far-sighted visionaries who saw the importance of green space and parks in a developing community in 1912, including the Oak Park men for whom Rehm and Lindberg parks are named.

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