A modern-day version of a saga worthy of a fallen hero of ancient days came to an end Monday, August 28, when the permanent marker for Ernie Banks’ grave was dedicated at Graceland Cemetery, about a half mile north of Wrigley Field.
The dedication was attended by former teammates, Cubs brass, and extended family members. Also attending, and providing some long-hidden details, were Frederick Wacker III and Robert Isham Jr., members of Graceland’s board of trustees, whose own families have large and imposing monuments within the cemetery.
The marker was made by Gast Monuments, a generations-old Chicago company.
The postmortem mystery surrounding Ernie’s final resting place began almost immediately following the conclusion of the public memorial January 31, 2015, eight days after Ernie’s death, and on what would have been his 84th birthday. The last scheduled event was the drive to Wrigley Field from the downtown church services. No planned graveside ceremony was announced.
The procession then turned north on Clark Street and then west on Irving Park Road, (thus passing by Graceland’s front gate). At that point all media coverage ceased, by request of the family. For nearly a month the whereabouts of Ernie’s remains was a well-guarded secret. What did come out in public, along with other disputes over the estate, was a disagreement between the family, who favored burial, and Ernie’s caretaker, who stated that his final instructions were for cremation.
The first break came the following February 17, when the death certificate was released. It stated clearly that Ernie had been buried at Graceland February 6, a week after the public services, under court order. One attorney connected with the estate litigation confirmed these details. But the cemetery, and others involved with the dispute, resolutely refused to admit Ernie’s presence within its grounds, a situation that was maintained until the first, temporary marker was installed in September, 2016. Ernie thus rested in near-complete anonymity for over a year and a half.
The trustees revealed at the permanent marker’s dedication that Ernie’s place at Graceland was decided very soon after his death, and that accommodations were made with some special considerations. Graceland has been an active cemetery for more than a century and a half, and available full grave space is currently at a considerable premium. This can be seen by the concrete lot markers on site, which indicate the ground in which Ernie now lies was a designated “path”, not a potential lot.
I am a cemetery aficionado, and Graceland is only blocks from where I live. I walk there frequently, as both a history and nature buff. Graceland is the only maintained green space west of the lakefront in that area, and a great deal of rare city flora and fauna may be routinely found there.
It was during one such walk that I came upon Ernie’s newly-turned gravesite in mid-February, 2015. This was before the site was confirmed via the death certificate, but it was not difficult to guess who the new resident was. I began to document the site from that time forward. In the gallery above, I have included some of my archive photos of the site’s development over time, following the photos of the new marker.
So now Ernie’s resting place finally appears as it will for generations of fans to come. Its location, so close to Wrigley and shared with several other figures prominent in Cubs lore, will doubtless make it a place of pilgrimage. Graceland seems fine with this, and Ernie is now perhaps first among equals in one of the most prestigious burial grounds in the Midwest.