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You've Seen His Crosses After Tragedies. It Has Taken Its Toll

Greg Zanis retires from 23-year-old project honoring victims of national tragedies, after 27K crosses
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2019 9:54 AM CST
He's Built 27K Crosses for Victims. Now: 'I Am Tired'
Greg Zanis prepares crosses to place at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting at a shopping complex on Aug. 5, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

An Illinois carpenter who's made tens of thousands of white crosses for victims of tragedies in the US—e.g., mass shootings, terror attacks, natural disasters—is finally turning in his hammer after more than two decades. Greg Zanis, who says he's built close to 27,000 crosses (as well as Stars of David and crescent moons, depending on victims' religious affiliations) has retired, and it's partly because his work has just became too emotionally grueling, per NBC News. "I am tired," he tells CNN. "I suffer a lot when I do [the crosses]. It's very hard on me. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders." The 69-year-old funds his Zanis Crosses for Losses out of his own money, as well as through donations, and he's leaving the memorial project behind $14,000 in debt, per NBC Chicago.

Zanis started the project in 1996 after his father-in-law was murdered, and he's since delivered his handiwork to, among others: Columbine, Parkland, Las Vegas, and other mass shooting sites; locations hit by tornadoes and wildfires; and Martha's Vineyard, where JFK Jr.'s plane crashed. What appeared to expedite Zanis' retirement decision: the mass shooting in February in his hometown of Aurora, Ill. "I was blindsided," he tells CNN. "I've been living in a curtain of darkness since." Zanis is handing off his duties to Lutheran Church Charities and will teach the affiliated churches how to build the crosses. As for his own future plans, Zanis will spend his time restoring a 1927 Cadillac Imperial stretch limousine once owned by a Chicago gangster. "It will help me get my mind off this," he says. (More cross stories.)

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