Up Close
September 18, 2013 • 04:36:25 p.m.

Crystal Lake man dons Ivy Man getup to cheer on Cubs

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

“Ivy Man” Ward Tannhauser (Photo provided)

Ivy Man likely won’t be retiring any time soon.

But if he does – a big “if” considering he’ll only retire when the Cubs win the World Series – his costume will become part of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

His picture already is part of the museum’s “Sacred Ground” exhibit featuring ballparks and their unique fans. Yes, Ivy Man is quite the Cubs celebrity.

His alter-ego, Ward Tannhauser of Crystal Lake, not so much. 

“Nobody would recognize me, but every once in awhile I can put on this outfit and become one of the most famous Cubs fans there is,” said the 52-year-old Tannhauser, who works as a machinery salesman by day.

Tannhauser dresses in what first began in 1996 as a Halloween costume. He went as “tree man” at the time to a costume contest. 

Standing 8 1/2-feet tall on stilts, he drapes himself in wire mesh wrapped with faux leaves or evergreen. He wears platform shoes, or tennis shoes attached to pieces of green plywood. His “arms,” hanging down to his ankles, are made of crutches also wrapped in faux ivy.

In 2003, when the Cubs made the play-offs, Tannhauser decided to wear the costume to a game. A “368 foot” marker as seen in the outfield of Wrigley Field was added, and Ivy Man was born.

“It was more meant to be a fun thing and to make people smile,” said Tannhauser, a third generation Cubs fan. “It wasn’t my goal or agenda to be a mascot or anything. I just have fun with it.”

He now becomes Ivy Man every Cubs opening day and during fundraisers and special events, such as the Toast to Harry Caray earlier this year at Harry Caray’s Restaurant in Chicago.

He also participated as Ivy Man in a video in 2012 for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, now known as Lurie Children’s Hospital. His daughter, Mackenzie, was a heart transplant patient at the hospital and appeared in the video with him.

Tannhauser, whose children are ages 19, 17 and 13, still competes in costume contests regularly around Halloween, having won more than $30,000 in prize money over the years.

And if the Cubs make the playoffs, he’ll be there. 

“I will walk more or less around the park one time,” he said. “In that one time, I take between 300 and 500 pictures. I’m in a lot of people’s scrapbooks. I just get a kick out of that.”

He tried dressing for a game during the heat of the summer, on an 80-degree day. Wearing the roughly 40-pound getup, he said he lost 9 pounds in 45 minutes. 

“I thought that might not be a good idea anymore,” he said. 

Because the costume is so tall and distracting, he’s not allowed to wear it into the actual ballpark. That suits him fine because he wants to watch the game anyway. So he changes after his walk-around and becomes Ward again to settle in for game.

He’s been a Cubs fan since birth.

“It’s just the way it is,” he said. “It’s the first game I ever went to, and my grandparents were Cubs fans. My parents were Cubs fans. It’s just what you do.”

As Ivy Man, which requires about $20 to $30 worth of upkeep a year to replace leaves and grapes that have been plucked by fans, he’s become a fan favorite. 

He’s also become a sort of wall of support for fans, especially when the Cubs aren’t doing so well.

“They kind of use me as a weeping wall,” he said. “They come up to me crying and hug me.

“I keep a low profile when they’re not such a good team. Give it a year or two, and you’ll see more of me.”

Planit Northwest is operated by Shaw Media and the Northwest Herald.
Content copyright 2014, Planit Northwest.
See how easy building a mobile-friendly website can be with Shaw Media Digital