As Michael Stewart was learning about the character he portrayed in Sunday’s 25th annual Cemetery Walk, he found out early on that the two had something in common.
Arthur Rehm, a member of the Park District of Oak Park’s first board of commissioners in 1912, lived at 1145 Wisconsin Ave.—like Stewart, a south Oak Parker.
Stewart was one of five groups of people charged with bringing to life one of the hundreds of notable people buried at Forest Home Cemetery. The DesPlaines Avenue cemetery has always hosted the annual Cemetery Walk which is sponsored by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest.
Large crowds turned out on a lovely Sunday afternoon to learn more of their local history.
Colonel Rehm was actively involved in the area of the village to the south of what decades later became the Eisenhower Expressway. Rehm felt that all the park amenities that were available in the north part of town should be available on the south side as well.
“As a south Oak Parker, I agree with that,” Stewart said.
He said learning Rehm’s history, and not only the lines he delivered Sunday, was a big part of his job in preparing for the role. He learned that Rehm was a real estate investor who became involved in the Spanish American War in 1898. He then served in the Illinois National Guard along the Mexican border in 1916, and was on active duty in World War I. Later in life, Rehm became a leader in several veterans’ organizations, Stewart said.
He had to learn the differences between war uniforms to ensure the accuracy of his costume, and was outfitted with one from WWI, thanks to the Historical Society.
This wasn’t the first time Stewart has played a part in the cemetery walk, but he said playing Rehm brought him out of his comfort zone.
“It’s just a great way to learn local history,” Stewart said about the walk.
“Anyone could learn it in just a textbook, but to go out and see people telling about their lives in this fashion—it really brings life to Oak Park history.”
To practice for the event, Stewart ran lines with his neighbor, Roger Lindberg, who has an even bigger connection to the part he played in the event.
Lindberg’s grandfather, Gustaf, was named the first superintendent of the parks in 1920, when he was only 30 years old. In 1960, the property originally called Green Fields was named Lindberg Park to honor him, his grandson said.
As a young man, Lindberg said his grandfather worked in parks in Sweden, where he was born. He got married when he was 19 and moved to the United States where he got a job on a farm that was located at what is now the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, Lindberg said. He went back to Sweden for a couple of years and got a job doing park development work in Oak Park when he came back. He worked his way up to superintendent and held that job for more than 20 years, his grandson said.
Both Rehm and Lindberg died in 1941, within a few months of each other. Roger Lindberg said that Green Fields and the old South Park were renamed for his grandfather and for Col. Rehm at the same time in 1960.
“It’s quite an honor,” Lindberg said about portraying his grandfather, who died when he was a year old. “He was a very famous man in his own right at that time.”
Lindberg said he worked for the Park District of Oak Park for a couple of summers while in college, but that was all he could handle at the parks.
“I have horrible allergies,” he said.