#921: Beyond the Vines

April 30th, 2018

The goose wasn’t having it.

He or she was standing atop her brick-and-ivy home, honking like a backward truck to chase the group of 30 onlookers away. Maybe defending eggs, maybe trying to catch some privacy, he or she strode the top of the wall like a feathered, Canadian Colossus of Rhodes defying God and historic cemetery tour groups.

The guide continued his speech, disregarding the honking Helios.

“Back about 12 years ago, a man named Dennis Mascari approached the cemetery with a rather novel idea. His basic premise was: Cubs fans are crazy.”

The group laughed appreciatively and leaned in closer for the kicker.

Among the dead Europeans and live geese of Bohemian National Cemetery, tucked between a sprawling, Renaissance Revival crematorium and a statue of a mourning woman next to the Czech word for “family,” there’s a grave site for the Chicago Cubs.

It’s a columbarium, which is just a long word for place with niches to stick human cremains in. This particular one is a 24-foot-long section of freestanding ivy-covered brick wall made to look like Wrigley Field, down to a mocked-up 400-yard center field marker.

A stained glass window embedded in the monument depicts the green Wrigley scoreboard with “CUBS FANS FOREVER” and “BEYOND THE VINES” replacing the day’s scores. The stained glass version of the scoreboard clock is set in eternity to 1:20, the Cubs’ traditional start time.

Mourners sit in actual stadium seats from the field or a bench from the dugout. There used to be old folding chairs from the bullpen, the Friends of Bohemian National Cemetery docent told the attendees of the group’s spring tour. Home plate marks the entrance to the plot. The original ivy was a cutting from Wrigley Field and the original grass was from the outfield.

Plaques marking the spots where cremains are inurned are decorated in Cubsiana. Some have photos mocked up like baseball cards with birth and death dates the marketable stats. Others say “Go Cubs Go” (with musical notes to indicate it’s the victory song and not just a general rallying cry), “Hope the boys win today!” “I Saw Ruth and Gehrig Play at Wrigley” and the now-dated “Wait till next year!”

The plaque for Mascari, who purchased the land and built the memorial, asks mourners to tap his section of wall when the Cubs win. I do because they did.

Survivors taped up ticket stubs from games important either historically or emotionally — the 2008 National League Division Series, the 2010 home opener, random bouts against the Cardinals or Padres. Mascari’s daughter left an old photo of him there, signed to let him know about the 2016 Series. Some baseballs had been left in tribute. One of the tiny plastic Cubs batting helmets Wrigley Field sells ice cream in was wedged into the ivy branches.

They’ve hosted funerals here where everyone — including the minister — came in Cubs gear, the guide said.

But managing the plots and the constant requests for inurnment became too much for the family. They eventually sold to the cemetery, which took over the requests from baseball fans across the nation.

“Somebody asked me about is there something for White Sox fans. The answer is no,” the guide said.

The back wall of the memorial will eventually be open to fans of other teams. “Nondenominational,” the guide joked. No Sox fans, though. Still not sure if that was a joke.

The tour winding through the cemetery and alarming geese had already brought us through 141 years of grave fads. Indiana limestone carved into the shape of dead trees from the 1880s. Photos of the deceased overlaid on porcelain from the early 1900s. The brief 1890s fling with metal grave markers of “white bronze,” a zinc alloy neither white nor bronze.

A 21st-century inurnment for the sports-obsessed is, in this light, rule more than exception.

“Again, this idea of doing what is important to the person,” the guide said. “I don’t know if any of you ever look at some of these bizarre things that pop up. They will actually do coffins where the lining will be team logos — for pro teams and for college. There are actual some that are painted in the colors for the team in the coffin. Bizarre, but that’s just the way people do things.”

The goose kept honking as the group moved on.

Read about a Civil War memorial ceremony at Rosehill Cemetery

And a paupers grave turned into subdivision park

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You are currently reading #921: Beyond the Vines by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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