by Ken Feltman
Let’s play two today!
– Ernie Banks (“Mr. Cub”)
Dennis Mascari, 63, the man who created the ultimate final resting place for die-hard Chicago Cubs fans, is dead. He died of cancer a few days ago in a hospice in Park Ridge, Illinois, just a few miles from Bohemian National Cemetery at Pulaski Road and Foster Avenue on Chicago’s Northwest Side. His ashes will be placed in the replica of Wrigley Field’s center field wall that Mascari lovingly built at the old cemetery that Chicagoans call BNC.
Mascari was the creator of “Beyond the Vines,” a 24-feet long ivy-covered, red-brick wall designed to look like the one in center field at Wrigley. The wall has niches for cremation urns. Old, original Wrigley field box seats and pavers from the Cubs’ ballpark add authenticity.
Beverly Bernacchi, BNC’s office manager, said there is still room for more Cubs fans. She hopes that the replica Wrigley Field wall will spark interest in BNC, which is best known as the burial place of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak was killed by an assassin who was trying to kill President-Elect Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
Bill Veeck’s contribution: The ivy
The grass is green now, growing in real Wrigley Field sod miraculously secured by Mascari. The warning track crunches underfoot. Vines, like those planted by Bill Veeck, grow against the brick. The iconic yellow “400” – for 400 feet from homeplate – reminds everyone of Wrigley’s center-field wall, but with the cremated remains of deceased Cubs fans inside.
One of those interred is Russell H. Adams. His plaque says, “Born in 1911, Died in 2009. I saw Ruth and Gehrig play at Wrigley.”
Mascari commented on memorial services at his Wrigley Field replica: “It’s pure satisfaction. Usually, when you go to a funeral, they’re not the most happiest things to be at. When you come to a cemetery to visit a loved one, it’s usually a pretty sad, gloomy situation,” he said. “But when you come here and visit … it’s going to be a great feeling for people.”
One early advance purchaser of a niche even said: “I can’t wait to get here.”
Recently, a funeral service was held for Benjamin George Maldonado, 34, who died unexpectedly in May of an undiscovered brain cyst. His “skybox” includes a Cubs logo, his “lifetime statistics” (dates of birth and death), the words “beloved husband and father” and these final words from the departed Cubs fan: “I hope the boys win today.”
The Cubs were his life
Maldonado’s wife, Larissa Rzemienski, said she didn’t find it creepy. “The priest gave a great eulogy of Ben.” The priest knew him well. “His urn had a baseball on top. We all signed the baseball that went into the wall. There were sandwiches and sodas, and we had a picnic. He was so young, a headstone would have been so somber.” The Cubs were his life and now his death.
A friend wrote: “I was at Ben’s service and there really wasn’t anything creepy about it. Actually, it was quite a bit different than a regular funeral service. There was the eulogy (which was great, by the way), then a seventh inning stretch where we all took a break to eat. We returned for the rest of the game, and after the ninth inning we celebrated his life kind of like when the Cubs win! After the ceremony, we talked about good times and memories of Ben, just like reliving a great game play by play. My guess is that a visit … won’t be as depressing as visiting a cemetery.”
Another man wrote about his brother’s death at 45: He “was a true Cubs fan. He was dressed in Cubs gear from head to toe. We had ‘Take Me Out to the ball Game’ on his mass card and there were many people there who were in the their Cubs gear. They were there to celebrate his life. He would have loved it. We had Cubs flags to sign. It will be the happiest place for him to be with all of his Cubs fans and … I am happy that there is a place that true Cubs fans can be placed forever and not have to be worried they may not have something in common with their neighbors for eternity.”
“A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”
At a 2003 post-season game at Wrigley, a sports writer from New York was amazed that children and grandchildren of long-deceased Cubs fans wanted their family’s departed fans to share the excitement of the post season. “They’re crazy,” he said as they brought family photographs to the games and proudly held them aloft. Chicago sports writers understood. The Cubs and other Cubs fans are family.
Cubs fans, for decades, have scattered the ashes of loved ones at Wrigley Field – a tradition immortalized by the late singer-songwriter Steve Goodman, whose “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” is about an old man who asks his family to scatter his ashes at the “ivy-covered burial ground.” Goodman’s ashes were scattered there by family and friends after his death.
Chicago Tribune political writer John Kass – a committed Chicago White Sox fan – started out thinking the whole idea was weird. He has decided something different: “Just like all Cubs fans – eternally optimistic, perky and hopeful, in life and beyond.”
Now, Kass knows that Wrigley Field is a shrine where they also play baseball. Dennis Mascari understood that. He remarked that he was humbled that “families thanked me and thanked me, over and over” for creating the replica of the center field wall at BNC.
Note: Ken Feltman’s article on Steve Goodman and Arlo Guthrie’s decision to record Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” was published in October 2007. You may read it here.