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Twentieth Tale of the Tombstones Brings the Dead to Life

Tale of the Tombstones, the OPRF Historical Society's annual walking tour of the Forest Home Cemetery, paid tribute Sunday to some of the area's most notable and notorious deceased.

F. Murray lives across the street from history, but it's a rare day she takes the quick walk across to embrace it. Sunday she did, and it was worth the effort.

The Forest Park resident was one of an estimated 400 to take the walk as part of The Oak Park River Forest Historical Society's walking tour at Forest Home Cemetery, 863 S. Des Plaines Ave. The tour highlighted six grave sites, each with a place in history.

“[The walking tour] just reminds me about the historical value of the cemetery," Murray said. "You know, a lot of people say, 'You live right across the street from the cemetery,' and I say, Oh yes, it's gorgeous over there. Some things you just don't get a chance to see."

Murray said this was her first time taking the walk in five years, and that she was intrigued by the event's 20th anniversary, which boasted the theme "Conversations and Confrontations."

Oak Park River Forest Historical Society board member Peggy Sinko, who doubled as a tour guide Sunday, said the theme was set to combine characters of tours past along with some new names that shared opposing views.

“For our 20th year we wanted to bring back some of our favorite characters, but we kind of wanted to do a little twist on it and not do the single stand-alone way we've done it before," Sinko said. "So we came up with pairing two characters who could have this conversation who were on very opposite sides.”

One example of opposite sides sharing a stage was in the "To Drink or Not to Drink?" exhibit, which pitted prohibitionist Henry Austin Sr. against German tavern owner Sophia Kohn. The two sparred back and forth over opposing ideals though, as history would have it, Austin won out Oak Park remained dry until the 1970s.

Other exhibits included "The Old Man and His Grandma," which spoke to the Hemingway family history and featured Ernest and his grandmother Adelaide Hemingway; "CSI: Forest Home," which was a trilogy of terror and depicted the lives of killers Belle Gunness, Adolph Luetgert and William Bixby; and "The Governor and the Radical," which portrayed the infamous Haymarket Square incident in a new light, from the standpoints of then-Governor John Peter Altgeld and activist Emma Goldman.

“History really is all about stories and people, and this is just a good way to get people to have a history lesson painlessly that they're enjoying and take something away from, and really appreciate it when you have these characters," Sinko said. "Sometimes the character will have the audience in tears, and that's very powerful when you can do that.”

For an actor to move his or her audience to tears speaks to that person's ability, Sinko said. In total, around 60 Historical Society members and volunteers lent a helping hand to make this year's tour a success -- and to get former visitors like Murray to come back out and experience it all again.

"It's something that we've been doing for 20 years and to keep having the same people coming back, over and over … you know, there are some people who have been here eight, nine, 10 times," said Historical Society President Kelli Kline. "For people to keep coming back every year is a testament to the hard work and the creativity, and the great history, that's in our communities."

Next year's walk is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2012.

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