Skeleton lightens motorists’ mood
Eye-catching landmark in La Grange Highlands
By Steve Metsch
For about four months, motorists driving in the 1600 block of Plainfield Road in La Grange Highlands have done their share of double-takes, slowing down, laughing and even parking to snap a few selfies.
The reason for their fascination is a bright-white, life-sized skeleton sitting atop a lawn tractor facing Plainfield Road.
It’s in front of the house owned by Ryan and Julia Di Pompeo.
It was Ryan’s idea to bring some more life to the old lawn tractor and entertain passersby.
He succeeded on both counts.
Ryan, 32, and Julia, 29, are glad they’ve brightened so many lives.
Ryan and Julia Di Pompeo with the skeleton riding a lawn tractor that’s attracted plenty of attention along Plainfield Road in La Grange Highlands. (Photo by Steve Metsch)
A field mechanic by trade, Ryan goes place to place, working on equipment. On some of those visits, he’s acquired his share of antiques like the1984 Lawn Keeper, made by the Roper Co.
“A friend gave it to me. (He said it was) from somebody who never used the thing,” Ryan said.
In his spare time, he restored the lawn tractor – or riding mower – and gave it a patriotic red, white and blue paint job.
“With the state our country has been the last two years, I wanted to magnify American pride with the American flag but, at the same time, put a fun little twist on it,” Ryan said.
He found the skeleton at a Halloween supply store.
“I’ve always loved skeletons,” Ryan said, pointing to a skeleton among his many tattoos. “I’ve had the Halloween feel in me year around.”
With their house situated on the crest of a slight hill, it’s easy for people who come there for personal weight training taught by Julia to miss it, she said.
Julia thought it would be a good idea to have a landmark of some sort in the front yard for newcomers.
“(I thought) maybe a little scarecrow by the mailbox,” she said, “and he’s ‘I got you.’ Before I knew it, he was painting this.”
Ryan built the wooden frame that holds dirt for a flower bed and also raises the skeleton and riding mower high above ground level.
“Just to make it stand out a little bit more,” he said. “Give some people a little laugh. I don’t think there should be anything offensive about this.”
He recalled last year when he was ordered by state troopers to remove a scarecrow that for years had been on the side of the house. Someone, he said, had found it offensive.
“This (skeleton) is non-gender specific, non-race specific,” Ryan said. “He’s got a smile on his face for everyone to see when they go to work or wherever they are going.”
Ryan also got to experiment with gardening by planting patriotic flowers around the riding mower. He’s happy the flowers bloomed and that nobody has vandalized the skeleton.
“One of my concerns was that someone might mess with it,” Ryan said
“The only thing that’s happened is that after graduation (from Highlands Middle School across the street) one of the graduates came up and put his tie on him,” he said.
Ryan got such a kick out of that, the tie stayed put until after Father’s Day.
“We’ll dress him up for Halloween, for sure,” he said.
The skeleton has a name: Working-class Mascot.
The name is a nod to Julia’s business, Working-class Barbells. A professional body builder who competes, Julia teaches weight lifting lessons in their garage.
Customers like the skeleton as much as the passersby who have given it rave reviews.
“I have cars stop throughout the day and I’ll see people taking pictures,” Ryan said. “A lot of people will say ‘Hey, that’s really cool,’ or ‘I’ll send this photo to my aunt in another state’.”