Forest Park is located in Cook County, 9 miles West of the Loop. Forest Park extends from Harlem Avenue to the Des Plaines River and First Avenue on the west, and from Madison Street and the North Western Railway tracks on the north to Cermak Road on the south. The village’s earliest inhabitants settled along the Oak Park spit, a high sand ridge along Des Plaines Avenue. In 1839, Leon Bourassa, a French Indian trader,purchased 160 acres along the Des Plaines River in present-day Forest Park, which was then part of Noyesville. Ferdinand Haase, a German immigrant, bought a 40-acre tract from Bourassa in 1851, which he eventually enlarged to 240 acres and turned into a popular park for residents and city dwellers. In 1856, the Chicago & Galena Union Railroad opened a shop and roundhouse at today’s Des Plaines Avenue and Lake Street, bringing 25 men and their families to settle there. In the same year, John Henry Quick purchased a large tract of land in Forest Park and the east end of River Forest, and named the entire area Harlem after his hometown in New York.
Since the 1870s, Forest Park’s main industry has been several large cemeteries —Jewish Waldheim (1870), Concordia (1872), German Waldheim (1873), Forest Home (1876), and Woodlawn (1912)—which cover most of the town’s acreage.Forest Home, which merged with the adjacent German Waldheim Cemetery in 1968, has a long history of burials, as evidenced when two mounds containing Native American artifacts and skeletons were unearthed in 1900. Forest Home is also the final resting place for the four men hanged in 1887 for their presumed role in Chicago’s Haymarket Riot. In 1893, these men were honored as martyrs to the labor movement with a large monument over their graves. In later years, a number of other prominent labor leaders, anarchists, Socialists, and Communists were buried in the so-called Radicals’ Row area of the cemetery.
Leisure has also figured in Forest Park’s history. An amusement park that operated there from 1907 to 1922 featured a giant safety coaster that was the highest ride in the nation at the time. Other top attractions included a fun house, beer garden, casino, swimming pool, and skating rink. The park closed in 1922. A thoroughbred racetrack was built by John Condon in 1894, a year after the Hawthorne track. The track was unable to rebound following a fire in 1904. Between 1912 and 1938, the Harlem Golf Course was located on the site, which is now occupied by the Forest Park Mall.
Incorporated as the Town of Harlem in 1884, the village was renamed Forest Park in 1907, as another post office named Harlem existed near Rockford. Historically composed of mainly Germans and Italians, the town’s ethnic composition has diversified in recent decades. Today, Forest Park enjoys a strong tax base—industrial and commercial—which includes a major shopping mall at Roosevelt and Des Plaines and bustling commercial life on historic Madison Street. As a result, low property taxes are fueling real-estate sales—luring empty nesters to Forest Park’s condominiums as well as young people looking for affordable housing.
Forest Park’s Fallen Hero’s
Officer Edward Pflaume
Eighty-seven years ago just before Christmas on December 13, 1925 a tragic event took place in the history of the Village and its police department.
Forest Park Officer Edward Pflaume – (German sir name and pronounced “Plum” in English), badge number 212, was murdered in the line of duty. Officer Pflaume was twenty-nine years old at the time of his demise. He was a member of the Forest Park Police Department for about a year, having previously served as an officer in neighboring River Forest. Officer Pflaume was a veteran of World War I, a member of the Forest Park Foreign Legion Post and husband of only three months to his pregnant wife, Dorothy.
According to newspaper reports of the day, at approximately 4pm on December 13, 1925, Officer Pflaume was alerted to an armed robbery by Mr. John Joyce of 7742 Monroe Street. Mr. Joyce was the operator of an ice cream truck traveling on Madison Street near the Desplaines River, when a man jumped onto his running board, brandished a gun and robbed him of sixty dollars.
A vehicle matching the description of the getaway car used in the commission of the robbery was reported to be at a roadhouse in unincorporated Proviso Township called the “Mannheim Tavern.” There is no precise documentation of how the officers were alerted to the gunmen’s hide out. At that time the Mannheim Tavern was located in what was farm country. The Mannheim Tavern’s remote location nestled in between corn fields and woods made it a suitable lair for any criminal who was on the “lam” from the law.
By all accounts, the Mannheim Tavern is still standing today. However, much has changed in eighty-seven years and it is better known in modern times as Eden Bowling lanes located at 10159 West Cermak Road, (unincorporated Proviso Township) Westchester.
Officer Pflaume along with Forest Park Officer Jacobs, Chief of Police Charles Jones of Berkeley, and Bellwood Police Officer McBride went to the Mannheim Tavern in search of the robbery offender. It is unclear why officers from Bellwood and Berkeley accompanied Officer Pflaume and Officer Jacobs although, in the 1920’s resources were scarce and it was not uncommon to only have one or two officers on duty protecting the entire village at any given time; requiring department’s to depend heavily on neighboring agencies for assistance. Thus the hypothesis as to why the other agencies would have been assisting Forest Park.
Officer Pflaume and Officer McBride entered the Mannheim Tavern through the back door. The other two officers entered the business through the front doors. Inside the roadhouse Officer Pflaume started questioning two men and two women sitting at a table. The exact accounts of what happened next are not clear, but one of the suspects brandished a .45 cal gun and shot Officer Pflaume in the abdomen. A gunfight between the lawmen and the assailants ensued. When the smoke cleared Officer Pflaume lay on the tavern floor wounded and Officer McBride suffered a graze wound to his face. One gunmen, Jimmie Johnston, was shot dead at the scene and the other gunman fled on foot into the near by woods.
Officer Pflaume was rushed to Speedway Hospital, the current site of Edward Hines Jr. / Loyola Hospital, where a few hours later he passed from this life with his pregnant wife seated at his bedside.
Police searched the wooded area near the roadhouse looking for Officer Pflaume’s murderer. A tracking dog from the Elmhurst Police Department along with airplanes scoured the woods looking for the perpetrator, but the suspect managed to slip through the police dragnet.
Bertha Zimmerman and Gertude Bennett, both from Chicago were the two women who where in the company of the gunmen. Both where held and questioned by Forest Park Police Chief Fred W. Licht, Village Attorney Walter W.L. Meyer, Sergeant Harry Zimmerman, and Sergeant Edward Schultz.
The suspect in the officer’s murder was later identified as a known criminal, ne’er-do-well and an overall blight on society. The murderer’s name was William Jack “Three Fingers” White. White was a reported member of the notorious Al Capone organization and declared a public enemy by the Chicago Crime Commission’s first published report in 1923. Police labeled him as the “toughest gunman in Chicago.”
White was eventually captured and brought to trial for the officer’s murder. “Three Fingers” White was found guilty of the murder of Officer Pflaume and on January 21st, 1927 he was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Philip Sullivan. The Illinois State Supreme Court later overturned the conviction and White was granted a new trial. In a strange twist of events the State’s star witness in the second trial, Bellwood Officer McBride, [now a sergeant] was shot at while riding a street car in Maywood just weeks before the new trial was set to begin. It was suspected “Three Fingers” White was attempting to silence Sergeant McBride before the start of the second trial.
Sergeant McBride survived the attack and testified at White’s second trial. Again, White was found guilty of the officer’s murder and sentenced to prison. However, on February 25th 1929, the court overturned the second conviction. For unknown reasons the State did not pursue a third trial for White. In May of 1932 the Cook County State’s Attorney decided to “nolle prossed” or not to prosecute the case. It was suspected that because of White’s association with Al Capone’s criminal empire the “fix was in” at both trails to ensure that a miscarriage of justice would occur.
Like any nefarious character, White was killed on January 23rd 1934 in a third floor apartment at 920 Wesley Avenue in Oak Park. Much hypothesis swirled as to who the offender’s were in White’s murder. Theories in the case included suspects from the famous Murray Humphries to members of the Touhy gang. According to reports White’s funeral could be best described as uneventful. White was buried in Mt. Carmel in Hillside next to other gangsters of the era.
Forest Park is a much different place since 1925. The street cars have vanished from Madison Street and during a major reconstruction project in the late 1990’s their tracks where finally removed symbolizing the end of the last remnants forever of the street car’s glory days. The farmers no longer use horse drawn fruit trucks to peddle their goods. Homes now stand on the old rail road tracks that encompassed all of Hannah Ave. south of what today is the Eisenhower Expressway to its main line in Berwyn. Yes, Forest Park has changed greatly in eighty-six years.
The Pflaume’s home at 408 Hannah Avenue was torn down to make way for a public parking lot sometime in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. The Officer never saw his child grow up nor did he ever again enjoy another Christmas celebration at his Hannah Avenue home.
A McDonalds now sits at 7526 Madison Street, the location of the Ascher’s theatre. It was at the Ascher the town gathered for a fund raiser for the young widow Pflaume. Gone, too, are the old German meeting halls and philanthropic civic organizations where the community assembled to show support for the Pflaume family in their darkest hour.
Officer Pflaume was waked at the American Legion Hall at 500 Circle Ave. The building is still standing to this day and remains an American Legion Post. Surprisingly, not much has changed architecturally in that part of the Village. The American Legion and the homes surrounding it look much like they did back in 1925.
According to the proceedings from the December 14th meeting of the Village Council the elected officials unanimously passed a resolution honoring the slain officer. They stood for a moment of silence and agreed to pay for all of Officer Edward Plaume’s funeral expenses.
Newspaper photos of Officer Pflaume’s funeral showed lines of his brother officers on motorcycles along the 400 and 500 blocks of Marengo Avenue. The officers where waiting in the snow and frigid temperatures of a typical Chicago winter to escort a hero to his final resting place at Montrose Cemetery located 5400 North Pulaski Road in Chicago.