- Wayne Drehs, ESPN Senior Writer
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CHICAGO -- There was no "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," or "Go Cubs Go," no visit from Ernie Banks or autograph signing with Ron Santo. Instead, there was Dennis Mascari, welcoming Cubs fans to the Bohemian National Cemetery and insisting no one leave without grabbing a free doughnut.
Despite his lack of celebrity, Mascari was the reason everyone was here. He was the reason red and blue balloons lined the cemetery driveway. He was the reason four Wrigley Field seats had been hammered into the cemetery lawn. And he was the reason a 24-foot tall Wrigley-inspired brick wall now stood in the middle of the cemetery, patiently waiting for its first "perpetual season-ticket holder."
It was a little more than a year ago when Mascari came up with the idea of building a Wrigley-inspired columbarium, a structure to hold the ashes of the dead. After fighting Mother Nature and a lack of funds, the structure officially opened Wednesday afternoon at -- when else? -- the popular Cubs start time of 1:20 p.m. CT.
"It's been a tough road," Mascari said. "I borrowed money from my parents, my friends, anyone I could think of. And to stand here and see this, to see this wall, to know that I've helped give die-hard Cubs fans a way to forever support their team, it was worth every microwave dinner, every cup of Asian noodles."
Mascari said he came up with the idea after realizing that every time he visited his father's mausoleum, he walked out more depressed than when he walked in. He was watching an ESPN "Outside the Lines" story on the growing business of sports-themed urns and caskets when the idea of a Wrigley columbarium popped into his head.
"That mausoleum is just room after room of name after name after name," he said. "It's so depressing. I figured there had to be something better, a way people could visit their loved ones without being miserable."
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Mascari placed an ad on Craigslist seeking an artist to draw his brainchild. A mere $50 later, he had exactly what he wanted. And a year later, he opened the structure to the public. The red brick wall features a stained glass image of the famed Wrigley scoreboard, the yellow "400" mark and eventually, ivy.
At the base of the wall are pavers that came from outside of Wrigley Field, as well as four box seats and a bench that Mascari said was once used in the Cubs' bullpen. Mascari added that the sod at the base of the wall is from Wrigley as well.
Mascari said he believes it's the only such structure in the country. Eight of the 288 niches have already been sold, including one to Chuck Betzold for his father Rudy.
"As soon as my Dad heard about it, he made up his mind," Betzold said. "I showed him a picture the other day and he was like 'Man, I can't wait.' I had to settle him down, remind him that, 'Dad, that would mean you're dead. You can wait.'"
Jim Simkins, whose family has operated Simkins Funeral Home in suburban Morton Grove for 70 years, believes the idea is a long time coming.
"All you have to do is read the death notices in the paper," Simkins said. "Every day there is someone who is a longtime Cubs fan, who couldn't wait long enough for the team to win a World Series. I can't tell you how often we bury someone in a Cubs hat or a Cubs jersey or tie. I think it's a great idea."
Niches, or "eternal sky boxes" as Mascari likes to call them, start at $1,295 and go up to $2,595, depending on size as well as how close the box is to eye level. On the outside of the wall, there is the option of adding a nameplate or "baseball card," complete with lifetime statistics (date of birth, date of death) as well as favorite player and favorite Cubs moment. The name plates range from $595 to $895.
The Cubs organization has no affiliation with the project. Mascari was able to secure licensing for the nameplates by working with Eternal Images, which owns the licensing for Major League Baseball-inspired urns, caskets and headstone markers.
Bohemian National Cemetery, which is on the list of National Historic Places, agreed to let Mascari build his wall on their grounds because of the positive publicity they thought the wall would bring. The only thing they've said no to is the broadcasting of Cubs games on a speaker near the wall.
"This has been a great project for us that we're real excited about," Bohemian National Vice President Bill Hudecek said. "But this is a cemetery after all. We don't want a bunch of people coming here to visit their loved ones being forced to listen to a baseball game. We might have a recording once in awhile, but not every day. The idea is to be respectful, not tacky."
On Wednesday afternoon, after he pointed out the free doughnuts and thanked everyone from his family and friends to his investors and landscapers, Mascari, a lifelong Cubs fan, was asked about White Sox fans.
Why not a wall for them?
"Somebody asked if I could include White Sox fans on the back side of the wall and I simply told them no," Mascari said. "Cub fans have been through enough. I want these people to be able to rest in peace."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow his Twitter feed at ESPNWayneDrehs.
They say you can't take it with you, but Cubs fans now have the opportunity to bring their undying passion for the team into the afterlife. Wayne Drehs visits a unique new cemetery in Chicago.