When I was in eighth grade, three of my pals and I decided that we would bicycle through Oak Park and River Forest and see all of the places of interest that we could in one year.
We started in the fall, skipped the winter months, resumed in the spring and finished in the late summer just before we began high school.
We biked two Saturdays a month, depending on the weather, and missed very few trips.
In Oak Park we cycled to Cheney Mansion and stayed around the fence until Miss Cheney’s two huge Great Danes ran to the fence growling and barking. We thought that they would jump the fence, so we lit out.
The Hemingway (boyhood) home at Kenilworth and Iowa was three blocks from my home. We really wanted to get inside, but at the time, it was a private residence.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio on Forest Avenue held our interest because of its unusual architecture. We never went inside, but a school friend of ours lived in a Wright home on Forest, so we did get to see the interior of a Wright home.
I was interested in the architecture of the building and wanted to stay a while, but my friends were bored after a few minutes, so we left.
At Mills house, corner of Home and Pleasant, we were not able to enter the building, but we were impressed by both the building’s size and the grounds surrounding the place.
I thought that it would be a great place for a picnic, but that was only a passing idea which never came to pass for me.
The World War I memorial (Peace Triumphant) in Scoville Park held significance for me because my dad had served in that conflict. We were amazed by the detail of the figures on the memorial, and when we read the plaques displayed on the statue, two of my buddies recognized a few of the names because they were from their respective neighborhoods.
We were able to enter Unity Temple at Lake and Kenilworth because the custodian was working outside of the building and kindly let us enter. The church proper was so different from my church in its simplicity.
We cycled through Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University) and then entered the main building, but we didn’t try to enter either of the other buildings.
I thought Concordia would be a good place to attend for a college education, and that thought did come to pass.
Rosary College (now Dominican University) impressed us because of the beautiful architecture. We were able to enter the main building, but we were carefully scrutinized by a group of nuns.
We often visited Trailside Museum at Chicago and Thatcher and were always amazed by the variety of local fauna kept on the premises. I don’t remember the inside of the building very well, but a tour guide told us it had once been used as an orphanage.
Thatcher Woods was dark and deep, but we biked all of the paths we found, even going to North Avenue and to the Des Plaines River.
The river piqued our curiosity to such an extent that all three of us nearly fell in when we slipped on the bank.
We learned a great deal about the villages by touring in an informal manner, and I feel that what we saw has remained in our memories over all these many tears.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 78 years.