Here’s the story of how I came to make the art work in the photo above, “Famous Headstones of Forest Park,” in the style of a 1960s souvenir scarf, and the meaning of the stories in the scarf.
In a quiet suburb of Chicago, visitors arrive from all over the world, visit a cemetery and the Monument to the Haymarket Martyrs, or Los Héroes de Chicago, in Spanish, and leave a penny to show they’ve come to visit. But the majority of residents of this little town have no idea that this is happening.
That town, Forest Park, IL, looks to be over 50% cemeteries when you look at the map and it holds the dead of the Native Americans who lived here first, the prominent dead from nearby Oak Park and River Forest, higher income areas —including Hemingway’s parents, and the Haymarket Martyrs, or Rioters, depending on your point of view, and “dissenters row.”
At the time that four of the Haymarket Martyrs were hanged, the city of Chicago would not allow them to be buried within city limits, fearing (correctly) that their gravesite would become a pilgrimage site for those still working for worker’s rights.
At the time, Forest Park was a “far out” suburb, but still reachable by trolley, and featuring many taverns to go to for a post funeral lunch. (this is still true, though now the trolley is an el train and there are still many taverns, bars and brew pubs.)
Many fellow “dissenters,” including anarchist Emma Goldman, expressed their wish to be buried near the Haymarket Martyrs, in an area now known as Dissenter’s Row.
Even though Goldman died in Toronto, Canada, and special permission had to be obtained for her body to be allowed back in to the United States, it happened, and there’s her gravesite, right there in Dissenter’s Row.
I’ve lived in the near western suburbs for years, but I never knew this! I was astonished, the day we went to photograph the Haymarket monument, to see the headstone for Emma Goldman? What else didn’t I know?
As you drive down Cermak Road at the south end of Forest Park, you can’t miss the headstones with elephants on them, which have led to persistent rumors that there are elephants buried there, who died in the great circus train crash of 1918 that happened at the nearby train tracks.
This is not true, of course. Only humans are buried there, circus workers, many buried with no name on their tombstone, because they’d just been hired on and their names weren’t recorded. And the train wreck happened near Hammond, Indiana.
The stories you think you know, but then you start to research them and find out just how wrong you were. Town stories are kind of like family stories in that way.
All these stories are part of what drew me to go into the cemeteries of Forest Park with a camera. But the biggest story of all involves mystery, some very strange behavior, a racehorse’s grave stone, the Boy Scouts and an African American woman sculptor who was born in 1843 or 1845.She managed to get a high quality education, studying at Oberlin, though she was not allowed to graduate.
She was living and working in Rome in the 1870s when she sculpted her masterpiece, The Death of Cleopatra. She depicted the queen not as a coward, but a hero, bravely choosing the time and circumstance of her death. (other sculptures tend to show Cleopatra at the moment of deciding to take her life.)
Edmonia would often make a sculpture and then attempt to find a buyer for it, a practice that greatly annoyed her abolitionist advocates back in the United States, according to the book Child of the Fire.
Her Cleopatra was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and at the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition.
After the Exposition in Chicago, Edmonia couldn’t afford to have the heavy (2 ton) marble sculpture shipped back to Rome and it was left behind in Chicago.
Next, it spent some time in a Chicago saloon on South Clark Street. I wonder if this is where it caught the attention of the man who bought it to serve as the gravestone of his beloved racehorse, Cleopatra. His name? “Blind John” Condon.
Now we’re getting to the Forest Park part. Cleopatra, the horse, was buried right on the grounds of the Harlem Racetrack that use to be at the Southern end of Forest Park (south of Roosevelt Road, where the postal sorting center is now).
So loved was this horse, that it was added to the deed of the racetrack, should the land ever be sold, Cleopatra the horse, and Cleopatra the statue, were to stay there for all time. The golf course that was next on the land, and the Navy, honored this. The post office did not honor this deed restriction.
Which is how an amazing piece of history by an African Amercian woman sculptor of the late 1800s/early 1900s, ended up in the post office’s surplus center, and then in a scrap yard in the nearby town of Cicero.
Oh, that pains me! Poor Cleopatra.
Cleopatra was discovered by a fire marshall doing an inspection of the scrap yard and he took on the sculpture as a project for his son’s troop of well-meaning Boy Scouts who came to the “rescue,” giving Cleopatra a coat of white latex paint.
Forest Park Historical Society president at the time, Dr. Frank Orland, had this vision for Cleopatra:
“…that the statue needed ‘renovating’ so it could be put on public view. The Egyptian queen`s white marble face and arms were to be redone in flesh tones, her robe in royal purple, she said Orland told her.” – Chicago Tribune, 1988, link below.
Next began a ten year struggle to get Cleopatra into the hands of a museum that could afford to do the needed restoration work properly, during which time Orland, fought mightily to keep her in Forest Park.
This led Marilyn Richardson, an MIT humanities professor who is part of the story, to say,
“Staring me straight in the face was an important piece of black history which had been missing for 100 years. Only it was about to be lost again, this time by being buried under inappropriate coats of house paint.” and
“I don`t doubt his sincerity. It`s just that he looks at Cleopatra as part of Forest Park history. Somehow, somebody`s got to make him realize that sculpture is more than that. It’s a priceless part of every American`s artistic heritage. – Chicago Tribune, 1988, link below.”
Finally, in 1994 — 1994! This is very recent history! Cleopatra was moved to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.
These stories fascinate me, and that’s what led me to make the scarf, Famous Headstones of Forest Park. Why a scarf?
Here’s the inspiration piece, which is like many I saw as a child. It used to be that when you toured Europe, a popular souvenir item was a scarf featuring drawings of the big tourist sites for whatever city you had just visited. Like this one:
Want to own the scarf, Famous Headstone of Forest Park? Click HERE to check it out and order.
Select Silk Charmeuse or Polychiffon for the best look! (the photos and text look the best on those fabrics.)
How big is it?
It’s 26″ square.
What fabric is it made of?
You get to choose, when you place your order! I strongly recommend silk charmeuse, as the fabric that will give the best print and look of the photos and text. (The sample in the photo above is silk habotai.) Polychiffon also works, but will tend to fade over time, while the silk charmeuse does not.
How is it printed/made?
I took the photos, created the layout of the piece, and got help with the map and creating the final file for printing. The Art of Where is the terrific company that does the printing on demand of the scarf.
The printing process is called sublimation dye printing and it’s good. The first time I bought a t-shirt printed that way, I was worried, but my daughter wanted some designs that weren’t available any other way. I was her sub-dye printed t-shirts inside out in cold water. I hang them to dry, though I think that’s not necessary. They’re holding up great! They’re over a year old, get regular wear and the prints look great. And of course, scarves don’t need to be washed very often.
Any other questions?
Feel free to ask a question in the comments about the story of Cleopatra or the silk material or printing process, I’m happy to answer!
Child of the Fire, Kirsten Pai Buick (book, 2010)
Articles from the Smithsonian: