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The Cubs dedicate a headstone for 19th-Century star Jimmy Ryan

Thanks are also due to the SABR Grave Marker Project. And, there’s something new at Ernie Banks’ gravesite.

Mike Bojanowski

Last Wednesday morning, November 30, a cold, blustery day that would have emulated many a home opener, approximately 30 people attended the dedication of a grave marker for 19th-century Cubs star Jimmy Ryan at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, more than 99 years after his death.

The long-anonymous resting place was marked through the auspices of the Chicago Cubs. Among those in attendance were Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney, Cubs Historian Ed Hartig, and several members of the family of Elizabeth Finn Ryan, Jimmy’s widow. Jimmy Ryan died in 1923, Elizabeth in 1959, she lies beside her husband.

Speaking at the ceremony were Kenney, Hartig, and Barb Del Carlo, Ryan’s great-grandniece, who acted as family spokesperson. Ryan had no children from his two marriages; the family in attendance are descendants of Elizabeth Ryan’s sister.

The final saga of marking Jimmy’s grave began in November, 2021, with the dedication of the headstone of his teammate Ed Williamson at Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery. The marking of this long-anonymous grave was accomplished through the work of the SABR Grave Marker Project, which annually identifies and installs a headstone for a previously unmarked or obscured resting place of a player or other baseball figure. Ryan’s case was presented and discussed at that time, but the Project’s marking of two graves in the Chicago area in the last few years, (Bob Caruthers was marked at Graceland Cemetery in 2018) meant SABR could not put Ryan on a fast track for action.

The Cubs, who sent representatives to the Williamson ceremony, then took up the cause and ran with it. In less than a year Ryan’s marker was designed, ordered, and installed.

Jimmy Ryan’s major-league playing career included 18 seasons, Chicago (NL and PL) 1885-1900, Washington AL 1902-03. He is arguably the best 19th Century player who is not enshrined at Cooperstown. His place in White Stockings/Colts/Orphans history (he played under all three team names), is secure, only Cap Anson outshines him in that time period.

He hit for a lifetime .308, with 118 home runs, 2,513 hits, and 1,093 runs batted in over 2,014 games, and was a member of two pennant-winning teams. His best season was 1888, when he led the NL in hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, and slugging percentage. At his retirement as a player, he ranked in the top 10 in nearly every career category. His records for leadoff home runs stood for several decades and after almost a century and a quarter he still holds the NL record for career outfield assists. He is the only Cub to hit for the cycle more than once (1888 and 1891), and the only major-league player to hit for the cycle and pitch in the same game. His heroism during a grandstand fire at West Side Grounds on August 5, 1894, is credited with saving hundreds of lives, avoiding what could have been the greatest disaster in the history of the game. Ryan and Walt Wilmot knocked down a wire fence with their bats, allowing fans to escape safely onto the playing field.

Ryan was voted into the Cubs Hall of Fame in its early classes and his plaque was installed on the left field bleacher display wall with the other members last year.

His obscure resting place was long a sore spot among local sports historians. The Cubs are to be commended for their actions in rectifying this neglect.

On a similar topic, an update on Ernie Banks’ final resting place at Graceland is in order. Ever since Ernie’s permanent monument was installed in 2017 (also paid for by the Cubs), and the gardeners at Graceland (presumably with the blessings of the cemetery’s governing board) tried to coax ivy to grow on it, without success.

Until, apparently, last spring. A healthy start of ivy growth was apparent throughout the spring and summer, and this fall it turned to colors one begins to see at Wrigley at season’s end. Assuming this really does take hold, Ernie will have an appropriate accent to his eternal spot. And the Graceland groundskeepers will have to do what their counterparts do at Wrigley, keep it trimmed so as not to obscure the inscriptions.

Here are photos of the Ryan ceremony, some other baseball-related gravesites at Calvary, and the ivy growth on Ernie Banks’ monument:

Many thanks for all attention.