Chicago: Grant Park – Buckingham Fountain


If you ever watched the old TV sitcom Married with Children, you’re already familiar with this Chicago landmark.  However, Buckingham Fountain was around decades before Al started flushing the toilet and sticking his hand down his pants.

Officially named the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain (and Garden), the ornate fountain was built in 1927 by philanthropist Kate Buckingham, in memory of her brother.  It’s located in the center of Grant Park, which runs between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago’s skyline is especially impressive from Grant Park, and Buckingham Fountain provides a great foreground for your pictures.  Looking west from here, you can see the Sears Tower and all the buildings that line Michigan Avenue.

It seems to be a regular occurrence, that several of Chicago’s buildings change their lighting to reveal messages.  During my visit, several buildings read “CPD” and one displayed a badge number, in memory of a fallen Chicago Police officer.

This is one of the four sea horses, which were designed to represent the four states which border Lake Michigan.

Buckingham Fountain is designed in the Beaux Arts style.  Translated, Beaux Arts means “Fine Art”. describes it as an “eclectic Neoclassical style” with “ancient Greek and Roman forms with Renaissance Ideas”.  The style is often found in courthouses, museums, and other ornate public and government buildings.

Hang around at the base of the fountain for a while, and you’ll be able to witness its hourly display.  On the hour, the fountain’s high powered pumps kick in and shoot water 150 feet in the air.  I’ve heard there is also a special display of music and changing lights, but during my visit the only change on the hour was the geyser’s height.

The Chicago Park District lists dozens of interesting facts about Buckingham Fountain.  Here are a few:
– The fountain has 134 water jets
– There are 820 lights inside the fountain
– Three pumps power the fountain, moving 14,100 gallons per minute
– An underground room houses the pumps. The room is 25 feet high and 35 feet long.
– The fountain operates April – October, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Here’s one more view of Buckingham Fountain, this time looking east, towards the darkness above Lake Michigan.

Buckingham Fountain should hold a special place in the hearts of road trip aficionados and old highway buffs.  The fountain stands just a few hundred feet away from the official starting (and ending) point of historic US Route 66. Various alignments of the old road (which ran up Jackson Boulevard) led to two endpoints over the years: one at Michigan Avenue, the other at Lake Shore Drive.  Illinois does a good job at placing Historic US 66 markers throughout the state, so you should find one along Jackson Boulevard nearby.

After a while at the fountain, you’ve probably enjoyed the lights, the geyser of water, and hummed the tune to “love and marriage” about a hundred times.  When you’re ready to move on, consider walking up Columbus Drive to Millennium Park.  It’s about 3/4 mile away.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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