inspired by a water tower

I ventured into the city the other day for an indoor walk. You might say I took a mental health field trip. I needed the bust out – a new place to walk with some new and different scenery.

My inside outing took me around the Mag mile, near the old Chicago Water Tower District. I was high above street level in an office building and couldn’t resist taking some pics.

From one window, the stunning view of Lake Michigan with its beaches covered in white and gray chunks of ice, majestic rows of highrises waiting in line at its frozen shore.


Out another window, colorful matchbox-sized cars stopped at an intersection in front of the old Water Tower. Dwarfing the infamous pumping station, a surround of cloud busting history – the superstructures. An impressive mob of protection built all around the miniature tower, creating a perspective I hadn’t ever seen before.


Which got me to thinking about that little water tower and its giant history. (warning this is a long post, if you need to use the bathroom I suggest you do it now)     : )

Back in the day, the Chicago Water Tower, (made of yellow limestone blocks carved from quarries in Lemont) was built in 1869 and resembled a castle. At 154 feet tall, the nineteenth century tower scraped the sky.  Hidden within –  a stand pipe! (You know, like the three foot pipe we all have in our basements to prevent sewer back up?) Yes, this European inspired, artistically disguised monument to modern plumbing was merely a necessary effort to control water – an outrageous idea at the time.

Up close, the look and feel of the almost 150 year old building reminds me of an architectural marvel made with silly sand.

silly sand.. (Anyone out there remember silly sand…a simple, kind of ridiculous toy from the ’60s? Drippy sand in a bottle, perfect for making castles in the air or on land.)

Even though I am always struck by how fragile and wee the water tower looks today, it did survive the great Chicago fire in 1871 and is preserved historically as a testament to Chicago’s strength and recovery.

That’s right, this small, delicate, drippy sand looking castle/tower somehow exudes a mighty and inspirational power – to all the muscle around it, and now, to me. You just have to hear the story (in a nutshell of course)…

On a warm October night, in 1871, the City of Chicago caught fire. It burned for almost 2 days, wiping out the business district and killing hundreds of people.



The Great Chicago Fire, Map, Ariel & Alternative. View

When it was over, “the Near North Side was rubble except for the water tower.” Yes, somehow, the water tower had survived. Why? Was the limestone responsible? The standpipe? No one is really sure how or why, but there it was – standing tall amidst the charred aftermath.

... fire, the Near North Side was rubble except for the water tower, which

This is where the destiny of the stoic little water tower takes a turn. This is when it is transformed, from a mere decorative standpipe to an icon of inspiration for the future of a city. As the spirit of Chicago accepts its past and looks forward, undaunted, enduring and full of heart, it rebuilds and rises all around the water tower. (Hmm…I knew there was a reason I loved this city!) In this moment I understand my pictures are less about the skyscrapers, and more about the human spirit and potential.

Questions about the fire

The human spirit is rife with potential… we all have it – just like the person who dreamed of a stand pipe in the water tower, or the leaders of the city who vowed to bring it back. Even though potential is born onto one path, we really don’t know what the ultimate destiny will be or how it will inspire the future. Greatness can only be measured in the generations to come. We haven’t a clue as to which of the smallest of our efforts will inspire others to great things over time.

Oprah Winfrey once said…

 I wonder if she was inspired by the water tower?!!

Let's talk about that walk...

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