When it comes to the history of Kankakee, the touch of Emory Cobb was just about everywhere.
Cobb "retired" to Kankakee in the 1860s. He already was a wealthy man, having pioneered the idea of sending money by Western Union. Western Union stopped sending regular telegrams in 2006, but Cobb's innovation persists. Wiring money still is a key part of Western Union's business.
Once in Kankakee, Cobb invented, developed or invested in all sorts of things. The city's trolley system, its water works, Hotel Riverview and the Electric (amusement) Park all were developed by the hand of Cobb. Today, both a park in Kankakee and a boulevard bear his name.
Cobb will be one of eight historic Kankakee County residents portrayed during the fifth annual cemetery walk. The walk is a joint project of the Kankakee County Museum, the Kankakee Valley Theater Association, the Kankakee Valley Park District and Mound Grove Cemetery. Actors portraying the deceased will tell the stories of those locally famous lives at their gravesites. Cobb is the first person in the five-year history of the walk to be portrayed a second time.
The walk will be held Sunday, Aug. 23, with tours set to begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It helps to wear comfortable walking shoes and to dress appropriately for the weather. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for youths 6-12. Younger children are free.
Tickets are available in advance at the Bird Park field house or at the door. Drivers should enter at the south side entrance to Mound Grove off Illinois Route 50.
Past walks have drawn about 250 visitors. Connie Licon says the event is not a fundraiser, so much as it is an "educational event for the community," working to get residents in touch with the past, often learning the names behind the streets and parks in today's Kankakee County.
Actors from the Kankakee Valley Theatre Association, in appropriate period costume, play the historical figures. They work from scripts prepared through research at the Kankakee County Museum.
"The actors always love doing it," says Paula Sutter, of the KVTA. "We try to match people that look like the characters," she said. Alas, though, there is not always enough time to grow the type of luxuriant beards you might have seen a century and a half ago.
Licon says Cobb is back by popular demand. A man of many interests, he was president of the American Shorthorn Breeder's Association and was one of the original trustees of the University of Illinois. David Ford will portray Cobb.
Other historical figures include:
• Judge Hamilton K. Wheeler, the only native Kankakeean to represent his own community in Congress, will be played by Richard Spenzinger.
• Calista Small-Humrichouse, the sister of Gov. Lennington Small and artist Suzanne Small, will be played by Gina O'Connor.
• Albert G. Hobbie was an early farmer whose holdings were located near today's Hobbie Avenue in Kankakee. He will be played by Steve Chorak.
• Thomas Kerr was a merchant in Kankakee who owned a hardware store with his brother, Andrew. Dave Atkinson will play him.
• Helen Huling was the wife of Judge George Huling. She was an early leader in building the Kankakee Public Library, donating land and $5,000. She will be played by Debbie Emling.
• William H. Grinnell was a farmer with 240 acres in Bourbonnais and Kankakee townships. Grinnell Road bears his family name. Joel Knapper will play him.
• James McGrew was associated with a flour mill on the Kankakee River and also helped develop the Kankakee Belt Route, which later became part of the New York Central system. Rob Bishir will play him.
Phil Angelo, The Daily Journal