AURORA, Ill. — For decades, Greg “the Cross Man” Zanis has been showing up across the country to honor shooting victims.
Now, the Aurora man says it’s time for him to retire.
“It’s just gotten impossible,” Zanis said. “There’s just so, so much going on.”
Back in 1996, he placed his first cross for a 6-year-old boy and has been doing it ever since.
“I’ve been doing this for two decades,” Zanis said. “I really love what I’m doing, but it’s taken a toll on me emotionally.”
Zanis estimates he’s placed nearly 27,000 crosses over the years at sites across the country where victims have died unexpectedly. Recently, he’s been racking up the miles as tragedies strike from coast to coast.
His signature wooden crosses with a red heart in the middle have become a symbol of what he calls “America’s cancer.”
He would often use his own money to build the crosses and then travel cross country in his truck to various tragedies.
“Every single time, it’s so hard,” Zanis said. “I go in there and look strong you know, but that’s not who I really am. I feel it harder to get home than to get there.”
Over the years, Zanis said he’s gone into debt, has bonded with thousands of grieving families.
“It’s about us uniting together,” Zanis said. “Instead of hating each other all the time.”
“I just feel they’re the perfect fit,” Zanis said.
In 2020, he will travel to 100 churches to teach them how to recreate his crosses.
“People come together and they see what I’ve left as ‘we’re all in this together,’” Zanis said.
Together, he hopes what he started in 1996 will last.
As for what he’ll be doing next, Zanis said he’s going to clean out his garage to make room for his beloved vintage Cadillac, which he’s had before he got married. Zanis said he’s finally going to take some time for himself.