An earlier post from 2015 pays tribute to the great Mr. Cub on the occasion of his passing. As I re-read it this morning on what would have been Ernie’s 88th birthday, I was reminded that the Ernie Banks artwork I created for the occasion had a story all its own. This post tells that story and also provides insight into what really happens to the random relics mourners leave behind.
Part 1 – Chicago’s Daley Center
Just a day or two after the death of Mr. Cub was announced, it was awesome to have the Wrigley Field statue of Ernie Banks take up residence right across the street from my downtown Chicago office.
I took a lot of breaks from work that day and enjoyed hearing Ernie Banks stories from fans who had met him or watched him play live. I had only been in Chicago for 6 years and didn’t have a Banks story of my own, but the people I met here sure did!
An older gentleman told me he was at one of Ernie’s first games as a Cub and knew right then he was watching a star. One fan told me a time he was a bit shy about asking for an autograph at a restaurant, only to have Ernie take a seat at his table and tell baseball stories to his family. If Ernie didn’t genuinely expect the Cubs to win the World Series every year, his acting deserved an Oscar from the sound of it.
When I saw one fan leave a Kansas City Monarchs cap at the base of the Banks statue, I felt like I should leave something as well. I went home and got to work.
The next day I dropped off a small framed collage of pictures, a baseball card, an old Jet magazine, and some jersey lettering. Over the next several days it was gratifying to see other fans take pictures of the piece. It was also great to see the Monarchs cap still there. Even though we were in the middle of a Chicago winter, a security guard explained to me that the city (or maybe the Cubs, can’t remember) had security protecting the statue around the clock and that the articles left behind by fans were part of what was being protected.
I asked the guard if he know what would eventually happen to all the stuff left behind. He said he didn’t really know, but he thought “Cubs Charities” would be involved. Not wanting my piece to end up in the trash, with the guard’s permission, I taped a small note to the back of the card. It said something to the effect of “Please don’t throw away. If needed, I am happy to pick it up when it is no longer valued.” I left my email and phone number under the message.
Part 2 – Undisclosed secure bunker
A few weeks after the statue left downtown, I was curious to know what happened to my artwork. I was ready to pick it up, but I was equally happy to have it hanging up in some back office at Wrigley. Anything but in the trash was fine with me. I sent an email to the Cubs.
First off, a huge thank you from me to the Cubs organization for bringing the statue downtown. This was an incredible way for myself and so many others to pay our respects, share our stories, and remember this great Chicago Cub.
Second, there is an art piece I dropped off with the statue–a white framed collage with a 1956 Jet magazine, 1969 baseball card, and other assorted items. Security staff let me know all articles would go to Cubs Charities once it was time to move the statue out of Daley Plaza.
Nothing would make me happier than to have my artwork somehow become part of a more permanent Banks memorial, and so what I’m definitely not doing is requesting its return. However, I mainly wanted to get in touch in case there comes a day when the various items left at the statue would either end up in the garbage or on a one-way trip to a warehouse somewhere.
Thanks again to the Cubs, and–even as a lifelong Dodgers fan from L.A.–I hope to make a bunch of games this year as part of my own personal tribute to Ernie.
I heard back a few days later from a Cubs employee who coincidentally had my same last name. It was a largely perfunctory response, more or less letting me know someone else would get back to me soon. I never did hear back, even after sending a couple more requests. Through the grapevine I learned that the Cubs typically put “fan donations” in a warehouse somewhere.
Now before I sound like a horrible person, I want to emphasize that my artwork was a genuine donation. I didn’t need it back. I wouldn’t have left it at the base of a public statue if I wasn’t prepared to let go of it. Still, it bothered me to think it would just collect dust in a warehouse when there were fans–at least ONE fan–who would get much more enjoyment from it on their wall. That the Cubs didn’t even return my messages just added to my annoyance. Of course, one of Ernie’s great lessons was to love the Cubs unconditionally, though the good and the bad, so I held my tripping in check.
Part 3 – A surprise email
Nearly two years later a mysterious message with no subject line appeared in my inbox. It was a name I knew well. I had his baseball card as part of my 1978 Topps Dodgers set, but I was pretty sure he was…well…dead. Before opening the email I did a quick internet search and, sure enough, this man was dead. Okay, weird, but not really. Just someone with the same name. I opened the message, which included a photo.
“I came across an Ernie Banks shadow box that we picked up at a resale shop that had your email address on it. Wondering if you can give me the history on this cool box?”
I was happy to tell him about the piece, which he graciously offered to return to me. I let him know I was happy to have him keep it:
“…well, that was all a year and a half ago, and I never knew for sure the ending. Until now. So definitely enjoy the piece! If you are an Ernie Banks fan or a Cubs fan, then I couldn’t be happier to have it in your care…”
And then in the spirit of Mr. Cub, I made a bold prediction. (Okay, maybe not that bold. The Cubs were loaded that year.)
“And just maybe this year will be a magical one for the Cubbies!”
Part 4 – Another surprise email
So this was the funny part. As I went digging up my old emails to share in this post, I realized I had one more email from the gentleman who found my artwork. I had somehow missed it back in 2016 and opened it for the first time this morning.
Good afternoon, Jason. I’m glad you responded back to my wife and I about your Shadowbox. It sounds as though this meant a lot to you and as well I thought it was a really nice piece. It’s funny that you mention the Dodgers outfielder … in your reply since the guy who I called about your Shadowbox gave me his baseball card 15 or maybe even 20 years ago.
The Shadowbox is in great condition still as it has not been disturbed since it’s been in my possession. I would like to get this back to you along with my … baseball card that was given to me years ago. I know if nothing else it needs to be back in the rightful owners hands. I’m not asking for anything for it other than an address I can send it to and a response back once it’s received. Your story about your Shadowbox and how you got it back will be a story you can talk about for years.
I hope to hear back from you soon and thanks again for the pretty incredible story. Take care, …
So crazy as it sounds, more than four years after I left my Ernie Banks collage at the base of his statue downtown I may well end up with it again after all.
I said at the beginning of this post that nearly everyone I met at the statue had a story. Now I do too.