By John Hubbuch
Places like Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., have spun tourist gold from their ghostly mysterious pasts. Lots of folks will pay good money to hear mystery stories from long ago.
Here are just a few stops on the Oak Park Mystery Tour. Perhaps we could get past and/or present elected officials to be our tour guides.
The first stop is Oak Park and River High School and the "Mystery of Minority Student Achievement." For at least 25 years, the high school has made closing the achievement gap a priority. Initiatives, conferences, meetings and the very best efforts of smart and dedicated boards, teachers and parents have prioritized this perplexing issue, and yet the gap has barely been closed, if at all. The problem can't be money because the high school has Scrooge McDuck-like vaults of cash. Just last month, Supt. Isoye announced that he and the board would take another crack at solving this mystery. Maybe the 12th time is a charm. We can only hope.
The next stop is village hall where we will explore the "Strange Case of Tom Barwin." Mr. Barwin was hired by the unanimous vote of the village board. He received good performance reviews. During his tenure opinion polls evidenced that residents love the community. Village taxes were pretty much flat. Crime rates fell. And yet five years into his service, he was gone. It's not clear whether he was fired, not renewed or resigned. We do know he got the same job in Sarasota, Fla., which suggests their due diligence found Mr. Barwin a very good candidate. The explanation for his departure used words like "settlement prohibits talking" and "philosophic differences," which are almost always used to obscure the real reasons. The omerta of the Mafia requires silence when employment is terminated, but that code should not apply to publicly elected officials.
Our final stop on the Oak Park Mystery Tour is the very large parking lot near Harlem and Lake. Here we will discuss the "Riddle of the Missing Colt Building." This spot was to be Oak Park's premier shopping site. It's next to the Green Line and Metra, smack dab in the middle of the town's busiest shopping district. An underground Target, Crate and Barrel, a hotel — the possibilities were endless. Yet it remains only a big aging parking lot, baking in the summer sun year after year. What happened? Some say the economy crashed. Others say the Colt building never should have been knocked down. Nobody really knows. The truth is lost in the mystery of the retreating past.
Everybody loves a good mystery. Oak Park has lots of them.