A Piece of History | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

A Piece of History 

Wrequiem for a Ballpark

After three unsuccessful swings of the wrecking ball, the top of the southeast corner of Comiskey Park finally peeled off in a chunk and smashed on the ground. Then pandemonium set in. Dozens of onlookers swarmed upon the bricks like buzzards on carrion, while hundreds more on the wrong side of the temporary fence pleaded to have some thrown over. "I've gotta getta brick! Hey buddy, gimme a goddamn brick!"

The Speedway demolition crew became men of power, taunting the crowd with the little morsels of Americana, waving at them through the chain-link. While hundreds of desperate hands grasped for a piece of the corpse, a few people struck out on their own. On the northwest side a young freelancer pried at the stadium with a tire iron, charging the frantic crowd surrounding him $5 per brick. He later said, after amassing $175, "I felt like I was on top of the world. I felt like somebody important."

Dozens more began battering the outside of the left-field grandstand with their own makeshift tools. Hammers, baseball bats, chisels, and sticks played in a singsong staccato. The crowd smiled and cheered, gained momentum, and began yanking on things with their bare hands. A hole opened up in the wall and a ten-year-old squeezed through. He reappeared later with a memento from the men's room, which another scavenger attempted to steal away. "Get the fuck out of here!" the kid yelled, "I'll sue your ass!" He eventually gave up the dirty porcelain for $15. "This is great, man!"

The insatiable mob circled the park. Some ran at full speed, trying to sniff out weak spots before the other scavengers; some returned to their cars to protect their bounty. There was hoarding. Joe Rutkowski came down from Wisconsin and pried free enough bricks to build a historic outhouse behind his cabin. (In November it became structurally unsafe and Joe had to tear it down.)

Fathers and sons worked side by side to get at the bricks. Michael Sullivan of Hoffman Estates brought his son Mike Jr. to witness the razing. When the steel support beams became visible in the right-field corner, he placed a loving hand atop his boy's head. "Son, you will cherish this memory. Hey look, you can see its skeleton." The two clapped with each smash of the wrecking ball, taking special pleasure in the majestic fall and crash of large portions of bricks. "Did you see that hit, Dad? Look at 'em go!"

Some treasure hunters came away with less than they bargained for. After exchanging $5 through the fence with one of the demo crew, a woman grimaced realizing her brick had come from a recent addition to the players' parking lot; it was only 25 years old and had none of the white paint so prized by the looters that day. "Ah, so what," she said later, "my friends will never know the difference."

On 35th Street one melancholy group stood apart, just outside the shadow of the new park across the street. For a moment their song rose above the noise.

"Na na na, na, Na na na, na, Hey, hey, hey, Good-bye."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Ron Gordon.

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