A history lesson in Forest Park

Opinion

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By JUDY BAAR-TOPINKA

With Mother's Day behind us along with my visit Woodlawn Cemetery to check in on my mom and dad, grandparents, aunt and uncles, all near one another there, it occurred to me that cemeteries are repositories of history.

When I travel, be it in the U.S. or elsewhere, I am always interested in the cemeteries since that is where one can meet up with and appreciate the people who made the world go around, either locally, nationally or internationally.

One of the most interesting cemeteries to visit is right in our own backyard, if you will. It is Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, just a quick run north on Desplaines Avenue. The Forest Park Historical Society runs tours through the cemetery, but one can go exploring just as easily with a little homework. I have taken the tour and am amazed by the people one can
find in this old, old cemetery which long has been part of the history of Chicago and its environs.

Just this weekend, having visited with Teamsters Local 705 and being out with my priest, Father John Costello, I heard about the impact of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century.

The Haymarket Riot, which started when a labor protest was interrupted by someone tossing a bomb which went off and killed numerous police officers. The labor dissenters took the blame for it, and seven were hanged due to the emotionalism of the time.

Later they were pardoned, as were all others, by the governor of Illinois. Suffice to say, it was a major occurrence in labor history and, incredibly, it is celebrated around the world. Fr. Costello, himself, says that in Peru, they actually have a labor holiday which they call "Chicago Day" which uses the Haymarket Riot as its basis. No one, by the way, ever found the original bomber, so the case is still open.

So, what does this have to do with Forest Home Cemetery? It is where the seven hanged in the aftermath of the Haymarket Riot are buried, in and around a huge monument which is often photographed and put into history books.

It seems that dissenters of any kind were not invited into Chicago's more elite cemeteries, like Graceland. No one wanted these folks. Forest Home became the final resting place of those who were unacceptable to society at large, and since there was a railroad leading right there from the city, it was not difficult to send these folks off to Forest Park.

Forest Home is also the final resting place of others who made history in their time. There are Indian mounds in the interior, and there is a large monument for Billy Sunday, the evangelist who could mesmerize thousands?"without a microphone. Emma Goldman, who was not only an early Communist who was deported to Russia after its revolution, finally wound up in Forest Home.

On a lighter note, the man who wrote Illinois' unofficial theme song, "Illinois," Charles H. Chamberlin, is buried there, as are a whole bunch of Romani family members who like to picnic on the graves in the summer as a way to bring their forebears into their day-to-day lives.

Yes, it is worth doing the walk. I especially like it in fall when the leaves are turning and the cemetery is beautiful. I intend to try to get through the Jewish Waldheim cemeteries next door to Forest Home at some time in the future, though I am not sure just who is buried there.

Considering the numbers of graves per congregation, the odds are that there are some pretty important people there too who were prominent in our history. Look at it this way, it's healthy to hike, it's interesting for history buffs and it's a good way to spend a holiday. Why not Labor Day?

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