When I first heard the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest was sponsoring a gangster trolley tour of River Forest, I was shocked. Way back in 1970, when I announced I was moving to River Forest, my friends were aghast. All they knew about that western suburb was that it was a haven for hoodlums.
Their reaction was the same as foreigners when you'd mention Chicago: their arms would become machine guns with fingers pointed, making that "rat-a-tat-tat" sound.
Building a new image for River Forest has taken years. Thanks to our outstanding architecture, the new developments, fine shops, superb schools and universities, and cultural attractions, we don't have to hang our heads anymore.
In 1980, when I was writing The Guide to the Architecture of River Forest, people asked me, "Are you including the house of Tony Accardo?" My answer: "Only if it's architecturally significant." We decided it wasn't. Some asked, "Won't you be scared to leave it out?" That gave me a big laugh.
Consequently, I was really surprised at the Historical Society's scheduling a tour of gangsters' homes. After all those years of working hard to overcome that image, and finally succeeding, why bring it all up again?
I'm one of the biggest boosters of our Historical Society: I use their resources constantly. I feel they do an outstanding job. But I refused to attend that first tour in June as a matter of principle.
When I learned that the first gangster tour was such a huge success, I was ambivalent: I felt a surge of anger (why hadn't they been there when we showed off the beautiful attractions of our community?) and yet I was pleased by their success. My honorable friends raved about the tour. I know the society needs money and if this does it, maybe I'm wrong! People always are attracted by the seamy side of life. Besides, hundreds would now see the "new" River Forest.
The Historical Society has just announced new tours on upcoming Sundays: Sept. 11, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. Each two-hour trolley tour of the sister communities, Oak Park and River Forest, will be led by River Forest resident John J. Binder, author of The Chicago Outfit.
Each tour will include exteriors of homes once inhabited by members of the Chicago mob, a walking tour of a grand River Forest mansion, and a celebration of the legacy of author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Each date will have three different times: 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Trolley tours start promptly from Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave. Arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your reserved time. Cost is $20 for members and $30 for non-members. Reservations can only be held with payment. Slots are filling up quickly, so hurry. For information, call 848-6755.