Augie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, asked me to contribute to this collection about those buried in our nearby communities. My chapters include Hollywood mogul Michael Todd (third husband of Elizabeth Taylor) and Smiley, a clown who died in 1918’s Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train wreck — along with 85 of his fellow performers. This project was inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. The book won the Illinois State Historical Society’s Superior Achievement Award in 2014.
Forest Park, Illinois is home to four major cemeteries and has been the final resting place for both the famous and not-so-famous since the early 1870s. The village was once recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for its ratio of over thirty dead to every live resident. Notable permanent residents of Forest Park’s hallowed grounds include the parents of Ernest Hemingway; serial killer Belle Gunness; Emma Goldman and other important members of the anarchist movement; evangelist Billy Sunday; Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Mike Todd; as well as victims of the Eastland disaster, the Iroquois Theater fire, and the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train wreck. Inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’ classic 1915 work, Spoon River Anthology, the Historical Society of Forest Park invited local authors, playwrights, journalists, and historians to pen individual narratives of those buried within Forest Park, in the style of the original work. Jay Bonansinga, a New York Times bestselling author (The Walking Dead); noted local historians Robert Loerzel and Richard Lindberg; Chicago-area novelists Michael A. Black, Frances McNamara, and Stephanie Kuehnert; and playwright Amy Binns-Calvey are just a few of those whose work is included in this volume.
Chicago Tribune: “Des Plaines River Anthology collects Forest Park history”
Forest Park Review: “Forest Park history to be honored by Illinois historical society”