Unless you live on another planet you have heard of the dangerous conditions in Chicago, where the level of violence is and has been at a crisis level for years. Chicago, like other major cities, has rampant crime despite strict gun laws, and the Windy City has one of the higher murder and shootings rates in the country.
On a per capita basis, Chicago does not attract much attention, because of its large population. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s last count in 2010, the estimated population in 2016 was 2.7 million, so its murder rate per 100,000 residents isn’t that large. But Chicago still wins a dubious prize for its total number of homicides and shootings.
We are living in a time of “memorial mania,” in popular culture as much as in academic publishing. This is not to say that all traumatic deaths are seen as warranting attention, let alone public displays of grief. On April 20, 1999, for instance, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a forty-five minute shooting spree at Columbine High School, killing twelve students, one teacher, and then themselves. The day after the massacre, makeshift shrines began being set up near the campus, many of which contained strong Christian messages. This would not have been remarkable if not for the intervention of Greg Zanis, who erected fifteen six-foot tall crosses on a hill adjacent to the school: that is, crosses for all those killed, including the shooters.
In just the past few weeks, he’s been to Jackson, Mississippi, near where a military transport plane crashed in July, killing 16 service members. He’s been to Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. And to New York City, where eight people were killed in a terror attack on a Manhattan bike path. And to Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people and an unborn child were gunned down in a church sanctuary.
“For a month and a half now, I’ve been doing nothing but making full-time crosses,” he says.
For Zanis, 66, the stopovers represent wayposts on a seemingly endless effort to share in — and, hopefully, to ease — the personal grief that lies beneath some of the most horrific headlines for our time. A retired carpenter, he fulfills his mission methodically, memorializing with handmade wooden crosses the victims of mass shootings and ..