The Story of Forest Park
To many Chicagoans, Forest Park is simply the end of the Blue Line: if you want to go west, board the Forest Park-bound train. (The Harlem Blue Line stop along the Eisenhower Expressway is also in Forest Park.) A few people might know it for its large number of deceased: with more than 800,000 people buried in Forest Park’s five major cemeteries, it has 50 times more dead than living residents.
Watch: Forest Park
But this suburb almost directly west of the Loop has much more than just cemeteries and transit centers. Potawatomi Native Americans resided in the area for centuries and buried their dead near the Des Plaines River, setting a precedent later followed by European, especially German, settlers who came after the Potawatomi were forcibly removed to land west of the Mississippi.
Originally named Harlem, the village was renamed Forest Park in 1907 and played host to popular entertainments such as an amusement park, casino, racetrack, and golf course over the decades. Today, the main thoroughfare of Madison Street features everything from old-school restaurants to record stores and boutiques.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Forest Home Cemetery
One of the suburb’s cemeteries does stand out: Forest Home Cemetery. It contains Potawatomi burial mounds from centuries ago, and one of the area’s first European settlers, a German immigrant named Ferdinand Haase, buried the first non-Native American – his brother-in-law – there. Haase originally used his land as a picnic ground, striking a deal with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad to make his land easily accessible by rail from the city.
Haase eventually began selling his land to groups who thought it would make an ideal burial ground, given its accessibility and distance from the city. Concordia Cemetery was established in 1872, German Waldheim Cemetery in 1873, and Forest Home Cemetery in 1876. A number of anarchists and socialists, including Emma Goldman and the four men hanged as a result of the Haymarket Affair, were buried there, as well as the evangelist Billy Sunday. The German Waldheim and Forest Home cemeteries were merged in 1968.
Things to Do
Get out into nature on the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path, which begins near the Des Plaines River. It follows the abandoned right-of-way of the old Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railroad that continued into the Loop on the same tracks as the present-day Blue Line. It claims to be the first rails-to-trails conversion in the U.S. and the pathway markers include images of railroad spikes! Then return to Madison Street for some shopping before devouring a steak and some French onion soup at the old-school Golden Steer.