After 20 months, the gravesite of Ernie Banks in Graceland Cemetery has been formally, and apparently permanently, marked. This concludes a lengthy saga of deliberate mystery.
Al and I have known of the location virtually from the start, and I have kept periodic visual notes on the progress and changes the site has undergone. We felt it improper to write an article until such time as the family, or the cemetery, chose to go fully public.
Within the last week or so, the cemetery has acknowledged the precise location on its new online search engine, and the grave itself was marked with an elegant, understated black granite shaft.
We will maintain Graceland’s protocol by not providing a visual map, but, for the record, the location, per the Graceland website, is as follows:
Anyone familiar with the cemetery will immediately recognize the landscape in our photos, and the cemetery office provides free maps of the grounds naming the sections.
As has been the case with many things in the aftermath of Ernie’s passing, this has played like an opera scenario. The tale of discovery is worth a telling.
Ernie Banks died of a heart attack at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on January 23, 2015, eight days before what would have been his 84th birthday. On the day of that birthday, January 31, a public funeral service was held in downtown Chicago, followed by a procession which traveled past Wrigley Field, continued north on Clark Street, turned west onto Irving Park Road -- and into seeming oblivion. For the next year and a half, a bewildering series of contradictory statements were issued by the parties involved in the dispute over Ernie’s estate, which included conflicting views of the disposition of his remains.
One clear piece of information was released the following February 17, when the death certificate became public. It stated plainly that Banks had been buried, under court order, at Graceland. This was confirmed by some attorneys involved in the case. But the mystery deepened nonetheless, as other parties to the dispute, as well as the cemetery itself, denied his presence there. Until this writing, I know of no reference source that had been able to give the precise location or its history.
It was publicized that the Cubs organization paid the funeral home bills. It would be interesting to know who paid for the burial and marker. Graceland is not an inexpensive place, especially for full burials in new plots, and most especially for full burials in new plots among, to steal a phrase from Stanley Elkin, the "big-shot dead."
As those who have read my occasional contributions may have surmised, I have a taste for recherché history, and one of my hobbies is the local burial grounds. As a SABR member, I have contacts within that group that specialize in finding and documenting ballplayers’ graves. We are considered an amusing, if not actually strange, bunch. As soon as Ernie "vanished," I determined to keep tabs on the local possibilities.
A good many crazed scenarios and conspiracy theories circulated in the succeeding weeks, including the testimony of one parcel company worker who insisted Ernie passed through his conveyor belt on the way to California.
That wasn’t as farfetched as it might seem, many of Ernie’s family reside on the west coast, and he himself did so for many years. But Graceland was always the best local bet for Ernie’s final home; it is close to Wrigley, and has a number of residents famous in Cubs lore. I was myself surprised that the funeral procession had not made the right turn into the Graceland grounds as it approached Irving Park. During my regular visits to the cemetery, I kept aware of any promising events.
On my visit of February 9, 2015, there was a single new grave at Graceland, and it took a big effort to build. There had been a major snowstorm a few days earlier, a large area had to be cleared, and a grave dug in frozen earth. Also, this was in the elite ground of Willowmere, a fitting place for a legend, and the home of many legends gone before. As such I thought it likely to be Ernie’s last home, and when the death certificate was released a week later, revealing the judicially-ordered burial date of Feb. 6, I was sure of it.
Since then I have kept regular photographic track of the site, and that timeline, and my comments, can be read above in the imagestream.
So now the secret, if secret it ever really was, is out. Ernie can be visited, and respects paid. It seems somehow fitting that this comes to light during a time of Cubs hope and success.
Graceland is a staid place, with conservative rules and regulations. There are literally hundreds of burials there of local and world importance, but Ernie will be their first "rock star," so to speak. No one, after all, places green shopping bags on Marshall Field’s grave, and I hope Graceland is ready for, and maintains a sense of humor, regarding what baseball fans consider leaving as appropriate tribute.
I finish with a caveat, and as a lifelong admirer of Graceland’s principles. Please read their rules and regulations for visitors, and follow them. And may Ernie find the peace and love he deserves.