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25th Elgin Cemetery Walk opens the door to city’s past

The headstone Francis Pask who lay paralyzed for 28 years Sherman Hospital.  September 19 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

The headstone of Francis Pask who lay paralyzed for 28 years in Sherman Hospital. September 19, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:18AM

ELGIN — It’s that annual time when some of Elgin’s most interesting dead people “come to life again.”

And organizer Laura Stroud says this year’s Elgin Cemetery Walk on Sunday afternoon has been generating more than the usual interest because 1.) it is the 25th event; 2.) for the first time, it will include the legendary Carl Parlasca, who led the also legendary Elgin Hiawatha Pageant from 1927 to 1979; and 3.) it will include an encore of one subject — a man who went into Sherman Hospital in 1913 and, believe it or not, remained a patient there for the next 27 years.

The cemetery walk is put on each year in Bluff City Cemetery as a fundraiser for the Elgin Area Historical Society. Actors who volunteer to re-create each person and have researched that person’s life dress up as the person would have looked, stand at the real person’s grave and speak for five to seven minutes about the life of the person whose remains lie below. Tour groups move from one such gravesite to the next.

This year, the new book “Silent City: A History of Elgin’s Cemeteries,” written by Stroud’s husband, Steve Stroud, also will be available for sale during the walk, or later at the museum. Steve and Laura Stroud have been co-organizers of the event since 2008. Laura said about 400 people usually attend.

“It’s too bad the actors only get five to seven minutes to talk, because so many have great stories to tell about these people,” she said.

Believe it or not

One couple being portrayed, Francis “Shanty” Pask and his mother, Maryann Pask, had a life story so odd that it once was featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” in 1941.

Shanty Pask was hospitalized in Elgin’s Sherman Hospital for an unbelievable 27 years.

The Pasks will be portrayed by a married couple, Jim and Sara Ellen Anderson of Elgin. They also portrayed the Pasks in the cemetery walk in 2003. Portraying the perennial patient, Jim Anderson will lie in a hospital bed next to the grave while Sara Ellen, playing his mother, sits loyally by his bedside.

A retired librarian, Sara Ellen said she and other historical society members researched the Pasks’ life via probate records, old newspaper articles and a profile of the case printed in a history book about Sherman Hospital.

Sara Ellen Anderson said “Shanty” Pask was a handyman and carpenter born in 1860, just before the Civil War. He was already 53 years old when his life took a tragic turn.

“He was doing some work up in Powers Lake, Wis., and he fell off the roof of a barn,” Sara Ellen said. “He fell 20 feet and landed flat on his feet. Think about the pressure on your body if you land that hard on the souls of your feet.”

Permanently paralyzed by spinal damage, Pask was carried back to Elgin, where his mother vowed to take care of him forever. He was admitted to Sherman Hospital and she came to visit him every day.

Medical bills were a little lighter back then, Jim Anderson notes.

“When he was originally admitted, Sherman Hospital charged $5 a week for a bed. But his mother was a tough negotiator. She got that changed to $10 a month. She was a nurse and, during the first years, she provided most of the care for him.”

“But when Maryann’s own health began to fail, she arranged to turn over her home to the hospital in return for a promise from the hospital to take care of him forever,” Sara Ellen Anderson said.

Maryann Pask died in 1919. Her son remained in that bed for another 21 years, finally dying in 1940 at age 80.

One more remarkable thing about the two is that in 1916, by which time Shanty had been paralyzed for three years, he ran in the election for Elgin Township collector. And he won, after beating his opponent in the Republican primary by a 4-1 margin.

Sara Ellen Anderson said that at one time, Marge Kenyon, from the South Elgin farming family, owned the Pask family Bible, which had been signed by every nurse who took care of Shanty through the years. But Kenyon is now dead, and historical society officials were unable to locate the Bible for the cemetery walk.

Also to be portrayed on Sunday will be:

Carl “Par” Parlasca (1882-1980), Elgin-area Boy Scout executive and expert on the American Indian.

Between 1927 and 1979, Parlasca led 100 cast members each year in re-creating the “Song of Hiawatha” story in the Elgin Hiawatha Pageant. Dressed as Native Americans, the young people would perform Indian dances on the shores of a pond in Camp Big Timber just west of Elgin as Parlasca read the Longfellow poem and up to 2,000 viewers watched.

Appropriately, Parlasca will be portrayed Sunday by Craig Hayward, one of the 1,500 or so people who performed in the pageant back in his youth.

George and Mary Lord, who were perhaps the city’s most famous philanthropists of the 1800s.

Today they tend to be thought of together, but they actually spent most of their adult lives married to other people. George P. Lord (1819-1906) was one of the bosses at the Elgin National Watch Co., an investor in real estate, president of First National Bank of Elgin, and Elgin’s mayor and school board president.

Mary Edwards Carpenter Lord (1832-1905) may have been even richer than George, having been previously married to a member of the Carpenter family that inspired the name of Carpentersville and owned the Illinois Iron & Bolt works in that village. After J.A. Carpenter died, she married the 70-year-old, also-widowed George in 1889.

“Devoutly religious and bereft of children, (the Lords) believed their wealth should be used to enrich the lives of their fellow citizens,” Courier-News history columnist E.C. “Mike” Alft wrote. So between 1892 and 1895, they bought up vacant land on the city’s eastern fringe and donated that to the city for what is now Lords Park.

Nancy Currier Kimball, part of the pioneer Kimball family who first settled Elgin’s west side, will be portrayed by Jennifer Fritz.

Laura Stroud said Kimball arrived in 1837, just two years after the first white settlers. She lived to be 100 years old and had nine children.

Peder Rovelstad, a Scandinavian, opened a jewelry store with his brother Andrew in downtown Elgin in 1883.

That business would live on for a century. He will be portrayed by Bill Briska.

Myrtle Jahns served in the military during World War II and became the first female to be buried in the military section of Bluff City Cemetery. She will be portrayed by Rebekka Ayres.

Dr. Anne W. Martin, who died in 1906, was a female physician in an age when that was very rare. Proud of her Scottish heritage, she specialized in water therapy. She will be portrayed by Linda Rock.

John Park Brown, another proud Elgin Scot, was curator of the Audubon Museum in Lords Park, which since then has evolved into the Elgin Public Museum. Brown also worked at the watch factory for 40 years and was a musician, poet and lover of nature. He will be portrayed by Mike Daly.

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