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Miss Buckingham and Her Fountain

A colorful western sky at the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc. 

This is a story about a sister’s love for her brother. It was her love and wealth that helped transform an empty parcel of land in Grant Park into a beautiful oasis with a magnificent fountain. Kate Sturges Buckingham donated one million dollars in the 1920s for the construction of the fountain in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, who died in 1913.

Kate and Clarence made their fortune by investing in grain elevators, real estate and steel. They were also avid art collectors and donated many objects to the Art Institute of Chicago.The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world. Architect Edward H. Bennett designed the fountain and French artist Marcel Francois Loyau produced the sculptural elements. The fountain was made out of granite and pink Georgia marble. The lower part of the fountain includes four art deco-style sea horses that spray water back at the main portion of the fountain. The sea horses represent the four states that border Lake Michigan. The fountain resembles a large wedding cake, many people say.

A close-up view of the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain.
Published by Hedrich-Blessing Studio.

At various times in the evening during warmer months, the fountain comes alive, displaying soft colors of mostly yellows, pinks and reds to the rhythm of music playing out of speakers connected in the park. Kate helped tirelessly with the lighting and wanted to the colors to emulate a “soft moonlight,” according to the park district.

The fountain was manually operated until about 1980. It then became fully automated after the city entered into a contract with Honeywell. At one point, its monitoring system moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and then the Chicago suburbs before finally returning to the site in 2013. No matter where the monitoring system was located, visitors to the fountain still enjoyed its architecture, lighting and 150-foot geyser-like spray, which shoots up so high it often sends a watery mist onto those standing near the base of the fountain. The fountain is in operation from May to mid-October.

The postcard at the top of this post displays the bright colors of the fountain in the evening. All the postcards excluding the one with the white border are from the "linen era." The colors on these particular postcards are extremely bright due to the high amount of rag content. These postcards became popular with producers mostly because they used cheap inks that would dry fast. Some people do not like collecting linen postcards because they believe the images are blurry.

A view from above the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park.
Published by Curt Teich & Co.,Inc.

The Chicago skyline stands behind the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park.
Publisher is unknown. 


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