In the 1930s, Lemont resident Rudy Kling rose to national fame for his success at racing airplanes.
The southwest suburb was filled with pride for its local celebrity, nicknamed the “Speed King,” who set racing records before dying in a plane crash in 1937.
Today, Kling is featured in a mural in the 300 block of Front Street titled “The Pride of Lemont” and painted by Rob Moriarty and Mona Parry with more than 100 volunteers.
Painted in 2009, it shows Kling holding “the key to the city” and surrounded by headlines and snippets of news articles.
The Kling mural is among public art in Lemont that also includes mosaics that decorate pots outside Lemont Village Hall, 418 Main St., and near the Stephen Street bridge, depicting images of churches and workmen.
One mural shows wings covered in symbols like flags from around the globe, offering testament to the town’s history of diversity.
More mosaics line the Stephen Street bridge showing trees and nature.
A mural offers a nod to the town’s history as a quarry worker’s town. Working with the Lemont Area Historical Society, Lemont natives Parry and Moriarty painted the mural, titled “There Comes a Time,” 110 Main St., in 2014 to represent a clash between quarry workers and Illinois militia in 1885 that left three men dead.
Shortly after, the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago turned violent after someone threw a bomb at police. That’s considered the catalyst for laborers to push for an eight-hour workday. Albert Parsons, a key figure in the Chicago labor movement, had tried to organize labor in Lemont and used the 1885 conflict to gain momentum for the Chicago movement, according to Susan Donahue, president of the Lemont Area Historical Society.
“I think it was an important moment to shape our community and shape our labor force in general,” Parry says.
Lemont’s bicentennial mural is one of the town’s oldest pieces of public art. Painted in 1976, touched up in 2000 and located in the 300 block of Canal Street, the mural also shows the town’s quarry workers.
Portraying history through art can help shape people’s views of the past, Donahue says.
“For many, history books are very boring and dull, and depicting events that have happened in this town really awakens people,” Donahue says. “Not only hearing about the information but actually visually seeing it impacts people more.”
Moriarty, who teaches art in Berwyn and Cicero, says the murals help bring Lemont residents together.
“It offers us chances to connect as a community through the shared history of the town,” he says. “That becomes a way for us to meet and say, ‘Oh, I may not be a lot like you, but we have this history in this town that we can celebrate and share.’ ”
Parry, who is an art teacher in Lemont, says her students often comment on the murals, and two Girl Scouts were inspired to create a mural of their own.
“I can’t tell you how many times my students come and say, ‘Oh, Mrs. Parry, I saw you painting on the mural.’ They notice these things.”