CLEVELAND - It is quiet, serene and beautiful in Lake View Cemetery, where the bodies of thousands of Clevelanders are buried. Tucked in a corner of the large cemetery on the city's East Side is the grave which, in itself, is a mysterious story.
There, the body of Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman is laid to rest. Chapman was a scrappy shortstop for the Indians who could hit well, run and slide. However, Aug. 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds in New York, where the Yankees played, Chapman was hit in the temple by a pitch.
Carl Mays was the Yankees pitcher who peered in from the mound and noticed Chapman was preparing to bunt. Mays pitched inside, but the ball struck Chapman in the head. Chapman went down, never regaining consciousness.
Twelve hours later, he was dead. Ray Chapman was the first and only Major Lelague player to die as a result of a baseball game itself. Fans from Cleveland and throughout the nation sent money to cover his funeral costs.
At Lake View Cemetery, Chapman's body rests under a granit monument bearing only the name Raymond Johnson Chapman, giving his dates of birth and death, 1891 and 1920.
"The momument was paid for by money given by baseball fans," said Mary Krohmer, director of community relations for the cemetery. She often leads tours through the cemetery where the bodies of many famous people are buried. Included in that number are President James A. Garfield and oil businessman John D. Rockefeller.
As she moves toward the grave of Chapman, she knows she will probably see something she has never seen before. For generations, baseball items -- gloves, bats, balls, pennants or Cleveland Indians emblems -- mysteriously appear there.
"They are given as tribute to the life of Ray Chapman," said Krohmer. She added rarely is someone seen leaving an item, but they are always there. Sometimes an item is taken away, but is replaced by something else so that the gravesite never appears junky.
"I have worked here at Lake View Cemetery for fifteen years," said Krohmer, pointing to two baseball bats which lean against the monument. "And those baseball bats have been here ever since."
The wooden bats are well-weathered, as is a couple of baseball caps bearing the Cleveland Indians logo. There are several baseball and softballs, some with written inscriptions on them, around the base of the tombstone.
In recent years, Krohmer has noticed money has begun to appear at the grave. Coins are scattered on and around the granite momument and pennies are wedged into the carved characters spelling Chapman's name.
The money is collected after a while and put in the Lake View Cemetery Foundation fund. From there, the money is given to various charities throughout the Greater Cleveland area.
When Chapman died, the Cleveland Indians dedicated the rest of the 1920 season to his memory. The team went on to win the American League pennant that year and defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Chapman's widow was given a full share of the team's winnings.
Every year, especially on the home opener for the Cleveland Indians, there is special attention paid to the Chapman grave by people who know the story. However, throughout the year, even in winter, when snow blankets the cemetery, there is baseball memorabilia or items at the grave.
When the Cleveland Indians opened their home season against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field about seven miles from Lake View Cemetery, the crowd roared from opening pitch to the last out in the tenth inning.
At Lake View Cemetery, the peace and tranquility were evident. There were the chirps of birds which live in the trees of the beautiful cemetery. There was the sound of a worker carving a name in a new tombstone. The nearby pond reflected the sunlight. The trees were showing their buds, which will soon open into full leaf. And the grave of Raymond Johnson Chapman caught the shadows of the sun as it moved east to west.
A few fans who knew the story stopped by and paid tribute to the life of a baseball player who, that August day at the Polo Grounds in New York, squared off in the batter's box as if to bunt the ball, but instead was clipped by the speeding sphere.
Chapman never moved again. However, his prowess on the baseball field -- good glove, good bat -- was not forgotten.
Every night when the sun sets in the west, and the shadows fall in their purpling way in the cemetery, the staff will leave for their lives outside of work. A workman will close the gates of the huge cemetery and it will be left to the animal life which make homes there and to the dead who are buried deep beneath its surface. Ray Chapman is among the 105,000 buried there.
The baseball bats, gloves, balls, and other equipment and memorabilia of the game will lie in the darkness, surrounding the place where Ray Chapman's body was laid to rest. He lived baseball. He died baseball. And baseball and its fans still celebrate his memory.
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