Niles history book a tribute to author’s treasured hometown
NAME: Thomas Ferraro
BEST KNOWN AS: Author of “Niles: The Early Years.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:26AM
NILES — As Thomas Ferraro’s research uncovered fascinating events from more than a century ago in Niles, he said it was like unearthing hidden treasures.
Ferraro, who grew up in Niles and attended Notre Dame High School, has always been interested in history, so when the opportunity came up to write a book about the history of Niles, the treasure hunt began.
“I was going to write a book about Kiddieland,” said Ferraro, who lives in Palatine with his wife and their 10-year-old daughter.
Ferraro said he loved going to Kiddieland, the now-defunct children’s theme park in Maywood, as a child and wanted to write a book about its history, but he said he couldn’t get the cooperation of the owners’ family. The publisher of his book, Arcadia Publishing, said there was no book written about the history of Niles in the “Images of America” series.
Ferraro said he was originally going to write his first book about Niles from 1955 to 2000, but after looking through Tribune archives and digging deep into other sources he realized the 1800s through Prohibition needed to be highlighted first.
“I could not believe the amount of things that were happening in Niles,” Ferraro said.
Among the things Ferraro found most fascinating were the details of organized crime and prohibition. His chapter on Prohibition and the Depression eras includes mob-related murders, illegal gambling and other dirty deeds. Niles was considered the “slot capital” from the 1930s to the early-1950s.
Another highlight while writing the book, which took about two and a half years to complete was interviewing a man named Ray Steil, who recently died at the age of 97. He was one of Niles’ original farmers and the house still stands on Dempster Street.
An investigative sergeant with the Illinois Secretary of State Police, Ferraro previously worked as a police officer in Park City, Ill.
Niles is where Ferraro’s law-enforcement career started. He was employed by the Niles Police Department from 1987 to 1991 as a community-service officer, full-time police dispatcher and reserve police officer.
Ferraro said it was challenging balancing his time between writing the book, serving as an sergeant and being a full-time husband and dad, but it was all well worth it.
“It feels great when you’re done,” he said.
Ferraro dedicated his book to Walter Beusse, who encouraged him to write about the rich early history of Niles. He became a life member of the Niles Historical Society in 2009, and in 2011 he was named resident historian and received unlimited access to historic records and other such perks.
With strong ties to the village of Niles, Ferraro’s Uncle Frank and his brothers were builders who constructed many of the villages new houses in the 1950s and 1960s in Niles. His grandfather opened the first IHOP in the Chicago area in 1961 outside Golf Mill Shopping Center.
Ferraro loved writing his first book and is enjoying working on his next two books just as much.
The history of Tam O’Shanter golf course is the subject of Ferraro’s upcoming book for Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of Sports” series, co-authored by his wife. He is also working on “Niles History from 1955-2000.”
Ferraro said he is looking forward to writing about the era in Niles that he grew up in.
“I’m going to be reliving a lot of memories,” Ferraro said.