She was featured in the finale of the Amazing Race 6.
Oscar Wilde said he looked like “a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it,” although he admired the muscle of all that machinery inside. Really, Oscar; where did you get that wild hair?
The castle-like style of her fine features inspired the design of the Midwestern White Castle restaurant chain founded by partners Walt Anderson and Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram in 1921.
It’s not Europe, and as far as castles go, both are rather small. Neither are really a castle, technically, despite the octagonal buttresses, crenelated towers and parapet walls; but they certainly have the corner on the medieval Gothic market among the twenty-first century monolithic structures that now dwarf this historic piece of Chicago’s history.
Their union has certainly stood the test of time; over one hundred years; closer to one-hundred-fifty. The structures were constructed in 1869. They represent the second-oldest water tower in the United States. The Louisville Water Tower (you guessed it, in Louisville, Kentucky) is the oldest.
They get a lot of press for simply being the only public building in the burn zone to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. A few private residences did survive, but not many. Most of the buildings in the business district north of the Chicago River were destroyed (17,500 buildings in all, 73 miles of streets). Three hundred lives were lost; a third of the city’s inhabitants were left homeless. Damage from the fire was estimated at $200 million; that’s more than a billion dollars in today’s currency.
I admire the Chicagoans that saw architect William Boyington’s landmarks as a symbol of Chicago’s resilience. Three times this couple was threatened with demolition; in 1906, 1918 and 1948. Three times the public let it be known history would not be lost to progress.
As often as I'd encountered this tiny spot of history on Chicago's north shore, I'd never really given it a lot of thought until today, while in my full tourist mode. Up close and personal I could appreciate the task of replacing each of the six million Joliet limestone blocks that went into the 1916 restoration of this Chicago icon. Subsequent work in 1978 prepared both the Pumping Station and Water Tower for use as a tourist center and attraction.
I grew a bit lonely for my own Chicago legend, and cold as I snapped a few more pictures in the windy streets of Chicago. Jimmy had opted to sit this one out.
One day, with a little luck and our fair share of answered prayers, Jimmy and I might just become that inseparable and distinguished old couple. I imagine we'll be set in our ways too, with little to do but reflect on the days when we were more than a fixture and less than the admired symbol of courage and resilience that comes with surviving, with grace and dignity, this fire called life for one hundred plus years.