For most of us, Halloween is time for the living. Holiday parades, trick-or-treating and kids in costumes dot the western suburbs in October.
This year, Forest Park is capitalizing on its claim to fame: celebrating the non-living residents within its village boundaries. With five major graveyards in the village, Forest Park has long recognized that dead inhabitants outnumber the living thirty to one. In the spirit of paying homage to this statistic, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development and the historical societies of both Oak Park and River Forest and Forest Park have planned three October events which aim to let the living celebrate the dead in ways that are both fun and educational.
Tales of the Tombstones cemetery walk
On Oct. 20, the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society will present its 22nd annual Tale of the Tombstones Cemetery Walk. The walk will give visitors a chance to take guided tours of the Forest Home and German Waldheim Cemeteries in Forest Park. As in years past, costumed presenters bring to life former area inhabitants. This year, the tour's theme is "Survivor!" Instead of focusing on interesting deaths, as has been done in past years, the focus is on those who lived to tell the tale of harrowing experiences.
Past-president of the Historical Society and tour coordinator Laurel McMahon thinks the twist will offer a different perspective to participants. "This year is a much different take on the stories we usually tell. We often focus on famous residents and how they died. This year, we will cover people who have survived peril. From watery and fiery deaths, to someone sentenced to death who won an eleventh hour reprieve, to someone who was presumed dead but actually alive, we have some interesting stories to share."
This year's tour will include 6 ½ stops for presentations. McMahon notes that the half-stop is really two visitors to the tour that will honor local anniversaries. "This year is the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Illinois, and many Oak Park women were instrumental in getting women the vote. It's also the 100th anniversary of what is now the Oak Park Day Nursery, so we will hear about these historical moments as well."
The award-winning event is a major fundraiser for the Historical Society, and McMahon notes that it gets better every year. "Our presenters are Historical Society volunteers. Some are professional actors and some are just very passionate about our history. They give high quality performances. This is the 22nd year we've been doing this tour, and as time goes on, people have become more professional in their roles."
McMahon says this is more than just a cemetery walk. "It's a fun tour. Not only are the presentations interesting, but our tour guides take you all around the cemetery and give you all kind of information. We want to move you to tears and laughter, but we hope you'll take away more than just the presentations. We hope you'll take away an understanding of just what a treasure the Forest Home Cemetery is."
Tickets are $15 or $10 for Historical Society Members and can be purchased at the Historical Society's website: www.oprfhistory.org . The walk takes place on Sunday Oct. 20, with a rain date of October 27th. The tour begins at 1 p.m and runs until 4 p.m.
Forest Park's 2nd Annual Casket Race
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development is not just a bunch of business people who get excited talking about taxes and revenues. In fact, executive director Laurie Kokenes thinks this group is as far from fuddy-duddy as you can get, and she's come up with the perfect Halloween activity to prove it. Inspired by an Emma Crawford coffin race she saw in Colorado years ago, Kokenes brought the idea of coffin racing to the western suburbs.
"When I saw it in Colorado, I thought: 'this is so Forest Park.' People like to different things and fun things here. People have good senses of humor, and with our history of having more dead people than alive in the village, I thought it'd be a great event."
The first Casket Race took place last year on the Chamber's 100th anniversary, and the success made doing it again a no-brainer. Locals, as well as local businesses, clamored to form groups of four, plus a steer-person, who would not only create their own artful casket but also race at breakneck speed down Beloit Avenue, competing for highly sought-after prizes.
Kokenes notes that last year's trophies, created by American Family Insurance's Liz Axtell, caused quite a frenzy among competitors. "Last year, we had prizes for the creepiest, coolest, funniest and fastest caskets. We had to have a coolest winner for Rick Schauer and Nadeau's Ice Sculpture who created their team's casket from ice. One team, Teachers of the Titanic, knew they weren't in the running for fastest, so they went as slow as possible to get their hands on a trophy."
The plan is to differ the trophies every year, and Kokenes hopes this year's tombstone trophies will inspire the sixteen teams registered. For safety reasons, team members must be at least 18 years old, and just in case, the end of the course is lined in hay bales to slow down any casket that picks up a little too much speed. Residents of Beloit get into the action, decorating their houses, and music and food after the event will keep the spirit alive.
The event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 26th at 9 a.m., starting at the intersection of Beloit and Madison.
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