Cicero hosts Houby Festival Oct 3 – 6, 2019
The 51st Annual Houby Festival will kick off on Thursday, October 3, 2019 featuring a carnival with rides for family and children, a variety of Czech and other ethnic foods, a wide range of entertainment, and a parade on Sunday Oct. 6.
Houby is the Czech/Slovak word for mushrooms, and it symbolizes a common experience for many cultures, the Fall Harvest. Although the festival celebrates the ethnic heritage of the Czech and Slovak communities, it has been enthusiastically embraced by the growing Mexican American and Hispanic communities in Cicero and Berwyn.
Town President Larry Dominick and the Town of Cicero Board have succeeded in making the festival and parade reflect the interests of the local community. Last year, more than 25,000 people turned out for the parade alone making it one of the biggest celebrations in the Chicagoland suburbs.
“We are very excited to host the Houby Festival and the Parade. It is always one of our biggest attractions,” said Town President Larry Dominick.
“One of the characters that has made it so successful is that the festivities and the parade are welcoming to everyone, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. It has become over the years a cornerstone of our community today.”
President Dominick is joined by Clerk Maria Punzo-Arias, Supervisor Joe Virruso, Assessor Emilio Cundari, Collector Fran Reitz and Trustees Larry Banks, Bob Porod, Victor Garcia and John Cava.
The festival schedule begins with a Pageant to select the Houby Day Queen and her court on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The Festival will kick off at 5 pm on Thursday and Friday with entertainment and carnival rides located at Lombard Avenue and the EL-Strip at Cermak Road. Performers on Friday include One of the Boyzz and 16 Candles.
On Saturday, the festivities begin at 12 noon also at Lombard and the L-Strip featuring four bands including Rick Lindy & The Word Ones, The Chicago Hit Men, Anthem, The Boy Band Night. And on Sunday, the much anticipated parade will begin in Cicero at 12 noon along Cermak Road beginning at 54th Street (heading west) to East Avenue in Berwyn. Entertainers on Sunday include Caliente, Simply Elton, R Gang and 7th Heaven.
There is also a beer garden and entrance is free and there is free parking at the El Strip or along Cermak Road.
The history of the Houby celebration goes back to the 19th Century with the settlement of people from the old Hapsburg Empire in Europe, a Roman Catholic community consisting of Czechs, Slovaks, Bohemians and Moravians.
These Czech immigrants settled on the near West Side of Chicago’s Loop, in a community they dubbed “Praha,” according to Czech historian and writer Frank S. Magallon. No one remembers the name Praha, but everyone remembers what happened there when, according to Chicago folklore, Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow knocked over a lantern starting the Chicago Fire there in the Fall of 1871.
The Czech and Bohemian community grew as Praha was rebuilt, and it transformed into Pilsen. Many people associate the name Pilsen with today’s large Mexican American community but in fact the name Pilsen is named after a city in Western Bohemia in the Czech Republic.
One of the main roads that cuts through Pilsen and served as the superhighway for the Western expansion of Chicago is 22nd Street, which years later was named in honor of a famous Czech mayor of Chicago.
Anton Joseph Cermak’s parents immigrated from the Czech Republic in 1874, and enjoyed a very successful career in Chicagoland politics, supported by the large Czech community. Cermak was alderman of Chicago’s 12th Ward, then the President of the Cook County Board, and then Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Organization. In 1931, in the wake of the Great Depression, Cermak was elected Chicago’s 34th Mayor, succeeding the controversial Mayor William Hale Thompson in a political war that divided the influential Irish and Czech communities.
During a visit by newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Chicago in February 1933, Mayor Cermak was shaking FDR’s hand when a gunman ran up and tried to kill the president.
No one knows for certain how it happened, but the gunman’s aim was thwarted when a woman knocked his arm when he fired. The bullet hit Cermak, according to reports. Although theories are abundant that Cermak was the real target, not FDR, because the Chicago Mayor was in the crosshairs of Al Capone’s Outfit.
Cermak died three weeks later from his wounds, or complications from Colitis, according to the often inaccurate rumor-filled Chicago newspapers. But not before he uttered his famous quote, “I’m glad it was me instead of you” – or maybe the quote was a creation of the mainstream tabloid news media which thrived in wild rumors and typewriter-crafted myths.
Cermak’s son-in-law, Otto Kerner Jr., became Illinois’ 33rd Governor. Cermak’s grandson, Frank Jirka, lost both legs during World War II and was a hero of the Battle of Iowa Jima. He became a doctor and served as president of the American Medical Association.
With Cermak’s death, and the increase of other immigrants into Chicago, the ethnic landscape of Chicago continued to change and the strong presence of the Czech’s was diluted.
Pilsen quickly transformed into a Mexican neighborhood of Chicago, and Czech’s continued to move west into Lawndale and later into the suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn.
Many other Czech Americans rose to great heights of prominence in every career including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Chicago football coach George Halas, actress Sissy Spacek, Secretary of State John Kerry, astronaut Jim Lovell, actor Ashton Kutcher, actor Peter Falk and President Donald Trump’s first wife, the late Ivana Zelnickova.
The rich history of the Czech community continues to survive in many of Chicagoland’s traditions, although they often do not get much attention.
The parade features floats and groups from the Chicagoland region from all ethnic walks of life. More than 25,000 people line the parade route along Cermak Road beginning this year at Riverside Drive in Berwyn and ending at Central Avenue in Cicero. Each year the parade route switches starting locations between the two suburban communities.
Hollywood actor Martin Sheen served as the Houby Day Parade Grand Marshall in 2014. TV celebrity Rich Koz, who plays the “Son of Svengoolie,” served as grand Marshall of the Houby Day Parade in 2011. In 2017, the Houby Festival Parade saluted the men and women First Responders of the Police and Fire Departments. Every year, our military veterans, first responders and public servants highlight the parade.