Big Head Fred -- in town for the past month to mark the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth -- greets students outside of Central School in Riverside last week before donating a children’s book about the renowned landscape architect to the school library. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

The celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday last April continues apace in Riverside this fall, with several appearances from the man himself – well, someone in an Olmsted costume, at any rate – at a number of public events and local institutions over the past month.

Since late September “Big Head Fred” has stopped by HopStop, Tour de Proviso and the Riverside Farmers Market, and he’s visited local businesses in the village the renowned landscape architect designed in 1869. He even made a surprise appearance at the dinner honoring Riverside’s Person of the Year, Connie Guardi.

Last week Big Head Fred began making the rounds at local schools, visiting Ames Central, Hollywood and Blythe Park schools. On Oct. 26 he was slated to appear outside St. Mary school before heading over to the Riverside Public Library at 9 a.m. He’s due to show up before classes start for the day at Hauser Junior High on Oct. 28.

Big Head Fred came to Riverside courtesy of the National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP), which launched a nationwide Olmsted 200 campaign last year in preparation for the anniversary.

Olmsted 200 has hosted events throughout the country in 2022, with Big Head Fred making celebrity appearances during a tour that began April 25 at a 200th birthday gala at Olmsted-designed Central Park in New York City, continued in Chicago and Wisconsin, and will end in San Francisco in November at the American Society of Landscape Architects annual conference.

Since part of the Olmsted 200 initiative is also to educate people about Olmsted’s vision and impact, Big Head Fred didn’t come empty handed when he visited local schools and the library.

Accompanied by Riverside Trustee Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, Big Head Fred donated a copy of the children’s book “Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America” by National Book Award finalist Elizabeth Partridge and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander courtesy of the NAOP to each institution. 

Marsh-Ozga was named co-chair of Olmsted 200 activities after the Frederick Law Olmsted Society and the village of Riverside decided to collaborate on Olmsted-related initiatives in 2022.

They partnered to plant the Olmsted Overlook atop Swan Pond Park along Fairbank Road and held a 200th birthday party at the Riverside train station in April. Marsh-Ozga was able to secure Big Head Fred for a month after he appeared at an event at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

The costume is based on a portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted that the NAOP commissioned from Chicago artist David Lee Csicsko for Olmsted 200.

And just who has been inside that giant head at Riverside events. According to Marsh-Ozga, there have been several volunteers, including Riverside Trustee Alex Gallegos, Riverside Parks & Recreation Director Ron Malchiodi, Frederick Law Olmsted Society board member Mike Maloney and Riverside Village Clerk Ethan Sowl and Visit Oak Park Executive Director Eric Wagner.

“It’s been a wonderful collaboration between community partners from various sectors,” said Marsh-Ozga.