Now that Pleasant Home will likely get its Violano Virtuoso at last, I can start moving down the rest of my list of mini-crusades.
A Violano-what, you say? If you haven't followed the saga, I've spent the last eight years singing the praises of this mechanical music marvel. It does more than play recorded violin and piano music. It plays a real violin and piano (innards), so you can watch it happening as you listen.
An altogether remarkable invention from the West Side novelty factory of Herbert Mills, owner of Pleasant Home, it took a while to get this on people's radar because, to borrow a line from the late Jean Shephard, whenever I told someone we should have a Violano Virtuoso in Pleasant Home, they looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.
I only get a small portion of the credit for this?#34;which is not yet a sure thing since Pleasant Home Foundation needs to raise $15,000 to have the device restored?#34;but I'm still checking it off my list.
I never thought of myself as a crusader, but over the years, I've developed quite an array of causes. Upgrading the Austin Gardens wildflower section is another I've checked off. Much has happened, and more is planned?#34;again, little thanks to my efforts, but I applied whatever small amount of influence a local columnist can muster on the park's behalf, and the people who really deserve all the credit responded.
Ideally, that's how it works. I identify what needs to be improved, and other people make it happen?#34;a fine system (from my point of view), but not always successful:
? Take the tree in right field at Stevenson Park ... please. I've been nagging the park district for years about this liability lawsuit waiting to happen. It stands by the short right field wall in Stevenson, branches splayed, waiting to take out the eye of some overzealous outfielder. The tree serves no purpose, doesn't belong there, and even though it would take less than an hour to remove, the park district, ordinarily frightened of the slightest liability exposure, blithely allows this one to flourish. It's a mystery.
? A permanent home for the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. This is by far the most fascinating suburban history organization in existence, and they can't find adequate space to display their amazing collection. The village seems totally clueless on this one, even though it would dovetail nicely with economic development downtown.
? Fiesta de Hemingway and/or May Madness. Two enormously successful, vibrant street festivals, which died for lack of village support and/or business district paranoia. I've long said you can judge the health of a community by its capacity for celebration. By that measure, Oak Park is not nearly as healthy as it was 10 years ago. Bring back the festivals!
? Establish a "sister city" relationship with Cuba. It's a no-brainer. San Francisco de Paula, outside Havana, is the location of Hemingway's last home, Finca Vigia, where he lived as long as he resided in Oak Park?#34;forming the bookends of his life. We should be thumbing our noses at the Bush administration and taking advantage of the potential for a vibrant cultural, and perhaps economic, exchange program.
? Noisy freight trains idling. We've covered the railroad's reasons for it, but there are things they can do to improve the situation (parking their noisy, polluting locomotives over Harlem instead of next to people's windows at 3 a.m.). The village needs to make more noise of its own?#34;especially with the coming influx of new luxury condo dwellers along the train tracks near the Metra station who are in for a rude awakening.
More next week. Meanwhile, if you have a personal crusade, let me know, and I'll try to publicize it.