Clarence Graczyk pays homage to the White Sox on the walls of his home.
When it comes to collecting, Clarence Graczyk isn’t particularly discriminating—beer cans, soda bottles, beer taps—but only one subject has sustained his interest for a solid half-century: the Chicago White Sox. About five years ago, Graczyk unloaded his boxes of Sox-related ephemera—accumulated from the 25 games a season he’s spent in the ballpark since 1957—and transformed his son’s former bedroom into an unofficial shrine.
“I guess you could say his over collecting is a hobby,” says Dan Graczyk, describing his 79-year-old father, who lives in Jefferson Park.
Under a flickering ceiling of silver stars hand-cut from pie tins, the black- and silver-painted walls showcase a panoply of paraphernalia: adult- and kid-size T-shirts, a valentine-colored pendant, a 1991 game schedule, dusty newspaper clippings, an engraved Louisville Slugger and at least a dozen ball caps. “I never paid for a hat,” he says, noting how many commercial-logo-laden “gifts” he’s received on game days. He attributes a dollar amount to nearly every item—from the $3 bag of stale peanuts to an album of 18-karat-gold baseball cards of the 2005 World Series–winning team, valued at $700. In the center of the room sits an original, aqua-green Comiskey Park stadium seat, a $250 splurge by which to remember the old park.
He picks up a signed baseball that sits on a shelf. “This ball was hit by Mike Sweeney with the Kansas City Royals,” he says. “This ball comes in and the security guard picks it up and says, ‘This is yours.’ I have about ten kids come over to me saying ‘Mister, can I have the ball?’ and I say, ‘Listen, I waited about 40 years for this ball. You’re young. You’re gonna get one someday, too.’ ”
Beyond the dedicated baseball room, Graczyk’s thematic assemblages tend to collect in the back of the house: two adjoining walls featuring beer cans through the decades, with an emphasis on Schmidts from the ’60s (a gift from Dan from his days in the Beer Can Collecting Society); dozens of toy cars; a corner of Coca-Cola collectibles; and about 600 ashtrays.
The backyard houses his latest, and perhaps most hands-on-labor-intensive, endeavor to date: a mini-golf course. “I was in Lincolnwood [five years ago] and [wanted to go mini golfing],” he explains. “I said, ‘How much is golf?’ [The employee] said, ‘five dollars a person.’ I said, ‘Oh boy.’ That’s what made me [build my own]. It cost me $500 to do it.”
The yard started off plain and simple, but between all the time he had after retiring from his job as a pub proprietor and his proclivity for taking hobbies to the extreme, Graczyk’s modest mini-golf course grew to carnivalesque proportions. Plywood pedestals topped with animal figurines bought at various garage sales, a homemade “wishing well” and bird baths dot the Astroturf. Swan-shaped planters perch on top of the shed in the plot’s rear end, where Graczyk tinkers with his latest project. CDs painted in bright colors line the wooden fence along with a string of Christmas lights. After entertaining himself, his son and some friends for a few years, the course doesn’t see much action these days, except when his golden retriever explores the cluttered terrain.
1 “[When he lights it up], you can see that yard from Google Maps,” says Graczyk’s son.
2 Using bowling pins recovered from a now-shuttered Northwest Side bowling alley, Graczyk makes and gives away these quirky homemade lamps.
3 This souvenir from Mall of America, a Wheaties box with Gracyzk front and center, resides on the mantle with his collection of bobblehead dolls.
4 Despite his loyalty to the White Sox, Graczyk houses a handful of Cubs stadium seats in the yard on the sidelines of the golf course.
5 During his nearly-30-year-long stint running his father’s former bar, Graczyk amassed a collection of 75 beer taps.