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Spreading ashes of love: Looking at the memorials in the outdoor public spaces

From Wrigley Field to memorable public outdoor spaces, spreading the ashes of loved ones has a long tradition, whether legal or not.

Andrew Grexa, 24, and his aunt, Leslie Ruoti, scatter some of his father’s ashes onto the field at Wrigley Field after a pennant-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016.
Andrew Grexa, 24, and his aunt, Leslie Ruoti, scatter some of his father’s ashes onto the field at Wrigley Field after a pennant-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016.
YouTube

After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, how many people wanted to spread the ashes of loved ones—granddads, dads, siblings, partners— at Wrigley Field fascinated me.

I’m a baseball guy, but I would not think of having my ashes spread at the ballpark.

But the wondrous beauty of humans is that we are all different.

In an Oct. 28, 2016 Sun-Times article, Cubs spokesman Julian Green told Maureen O’Donnell, the best obituary writer in the country, “We do not allow the scattering of ashes at Wrigley Field, and there are no exceptions for anyone.”

People do it anyway. I suspect ashes have been spread there many times and I mean more than ash of cigars and blunts.

A couple years later, around our dad’s 90th birthday, my four brothers and I took Dad to a cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains to make sure we understand his final wishes. One thing he was adamant about was that I was to spread some of his ashes around a tiny spring near what used to be the family cabin. That is where he would sit on a log and contemplate life.

It’s on state land and technically illegal. But I assure you with all my heart I will fulfill his wish.

Come to early January and the night before my bypass surgery. The surgeons went over the details of the operation and the chances of success (phenomenally good but not 100 percent).

After they left, I told my wife if anything went wrong and I did not see her again, I had two main places I wanted some of my ashes spread. She understood.

One place where Dale Bowman wants his ashes spread is at the headwaters/spring at this tiny trout stream in Pennsylvania, where the inspiration for his first outdoor magazine sale came. Credit: Dale Bowman
One place where Dale Bowman wants his ashes spread is at the headwaters/spring at this tiny trout stream in Pennsylvania, where the inspiration for his first outdoor magazine sale came.
Dale Bowman

One is a couple mountains south of where Dad wanted some of his ashes spread. In thick laurel around the spring/headwaters of a tiny trout stream, I shot my first ruffed grouse, then sold my first outdoor magazine piece and knew I could do this. Of course, it took another 15 years before that truly happened.

The second area I wanted my ashes spread is Starved Rock, where my wife and I were married more than a quarter-century ago on a steamy June afternoon (so hot I thought the holy-roller preacher from Streator in his suit would have a grabber before he reached the top).

I suspect mine would not be the first ashes spread from Starved Rock and wondered about how that is viewed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The other place where Dale Bowman wants his ashes spread is at Starved Rock, where he and his wife were married with this file photo view downstream of the Illinois River. Credit: Dale Bowman
The other place where Dale Bowman wants his ashes spread is at Starved Rock, where he and his wife were married with this file photo view downstream of the Illinois River.
Dale Bowman

Surprisingly, it is legal within a context.

“The [IDNR] may designate areas as scattering areas as defined by the Crematory Regulation Act (410 ILCS18) and has drafted administrative rules that apply to the scattering,” emailed Rachel Torbert, IDNR deputy director. “Persons interested in scattering cremated remains at IDNR sites, or learning more, should contact the site superintendent of the park in which they wish to scatter remains.”

That led me to ask the same about the Forest Preserves of Cook County and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Midewin is an interesting case, because there are private graveyards within MNTP.

“Burial or scattering of ashes is not authorized on National Forest System public lands, which are shared by all and include [MNTP],” emailed Veronica Hinke, public affairs officer. “Placing remains, head stones or monuments on shared public land is considered creating a permanent occupancy of the land that is not consistent with intended use.”

As an old English major, I find “permanent occupancy” an interesting idea in this regard.

As to FPCC, Carl Vogel, director of communications, emailed, “Forest Preserves ordinances do not allow visitors to leave behind any materials in the preserves, and we do not have an exception for the ashes of loved ones,”

But like most things related to spreading ashes, there are no records of anyone being cited for it.

I think most people realize grief is special.