Saturday, June 13, 2015

Buckingham Fountain and Steve Goodman

Every highway needs to start somewhere. For Route 66 West, that place was at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Buckingham Fountain
Buckingham Fountain Erupts

Buckingham Fountain was born at nearly the same time as Route 66. The highway opened November 11, 1926. Buckingham Fountain was dedicated on August 26, 1927.

Officially named the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, the fountain was built as memorial to a wealthy Chicago businessman named Clarence Buckingham, who was a patron of the arts and for a decade directed the Arts Institute of Chicago which was founded in 1893 in Grant Park,

Buckingham died a fairly young man at the age of 58 in 1913. Shortly after his death, in 1914, his art collection was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. Starting with 2500 pieces, through gifts and donations, the collection has grown to 16,000 works. A sizable legacy to be sure.

A greater tribute was wanted by his sister, Kate Buckingham, however. She proposed a gift of $250,000 as well as a $135,000 maintenance fund to the South Park Board of Commissioners to build a memorial fountain in Grant Park. In January of 1924, the commissioners accepted the offer and construction began.

Chicago Skyline With Grant Park In Foreground
Chicago Skyline Panorama
Grant Park In Foreground
"Chicago Downtown Panorama". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Long before there was a fountain or a Route 66 there was Grant Park, Known as "Chicago's Front Yard", the park has been around almost as long as Chicago. When the original township land plats were laid out, builders along Michigan Avenue were assured that there would be no development on the lake side of the street.

In 1844, the open land was christened Lake Park. It would slowly expand as the city grew and landfill pushed the shoreline further out into Lake Michigan. Over time, building did get built, obstructing the Michigan Avenue promised lake frontage.But they were improvements to the park and have been well received by the city.

In 1870 the cities baseball team the White Stockings (later to become the Cubs) played at Union Field in Lake Park before it was named Grant Park. Who knows how long they might have stayed but the stadium burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1871. In 1901 the park was renamed Grant Park in honor of Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant Park is a gathering point of various museums, gardens, stages, trails, and sports field. It even has harbors and marina's being located on the lake front. Look at all that this park offers:

  • Millennium Park
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Buckingham Fountain
  • Museum Campus
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Field Museum of Natural History
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Petrillo Music Shell
  • Congress Plaza
  • Lurie Garden
  • Daley Plaza
  • Richard & Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden
  • McCormick Courtyards
  • Fountain of the Great Lakes
  • Orchestra Hall
  • Court of Presidents
  • Tiffany Celebration Garden
  • Hutchinson Field
  • Chicago Lakefront Trail
  • Monroe Harbor
  • Chicago Yacht Club
  • Columbia Yacht Club
  • Queens Landing
  • Du Sable Harbor
  • Grant Bark Park (Dog Park)
  • Over 4 miles of strolling trails
  • 16 softball and baseball fields
  • 12 tennis courts
  • Daley Bicentennial Plaza Fieldhouse
  • Abraham Lincoln Monument
  • Agora (an installation of over 100 headless, armless sculptures)
  • Columbus Monument
  • Logan Monument
  • Maggie Daley Park
  • Skate Park
  • Children's Museum

The park is an amazing civic space Chicago should be rightfully proud of. It was a great choice of location for Kate Buckingham to build her memorial to her brother Clarence.

Buckingham Fountain has been called "Chicago's Front Door". Fan's of the 1980's sitcom Married With Children will recognize the fountain from the opening credits to the program. However that shot really did not give a sense of scale as to how large the fountain is. It is huge.

Buckingham Fountain Panorama
Buckingham Fountain Panorama
One of the largest fountains in the world, Buckingham Fountain is a rococo wedding cake style of design that was inspired by the Latona Fountain at Versailles. With its aquatic themes it was intended to be an allegorical depiction of Lake Michigan created in Georgia peach marble, featuring statues of sea horses in it large basin symbolizing the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

Some stats from the Parks department site for the fountain:
The water displays are powered by three pumps:
  • Pump 3: 75 horsepower for 1,600 gallons of water a minute
  • Pump 2: 190 horsepower for 5,500 gallons of water a minute
  • Pump 1: 250 horsepower for 7,000 gallons of water a minute
The Fountain has 134 jets in the following configurations:
  • 36 jets point upwards from the top basin, including a central jet to produce a 150-foot geyser
  • 34 jets at the consoles
  • 12 jets in the upper trough that arc into the top bowl
  • 12 jets in the inner trough that arc into the upper trough
  • 12 jets in the lower trough that arc into the inner trough
  • 8 jets spout from the sea horses' mouths
  • 20 isolated jets
The Fountain's water capacity is 1.5 million gallons. Depending on wind conditions, major displays use approximately 14,100 gallons of water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. Water is re-circulated from the base pool after the basins are filled and not drawn from the outside except to replace losses from wind and evaporation. 
The bottom pool of the fountain is 280 feet in diameter, the lower basin is 103 feet, the middle basin is 60 feet and the upper basin is 24 feet. The lip of the upper basin is 25 feet above the water in the lower basin. 
The underground pump room is 35 feet long, 25 feet wide and 25 feet high.
Kate Buckingham envisioned a fountain whose effect was that of "soft moonlight." She worked many nights with technicians, testing the various colors of the glass filters and currents to produce an ethereal, mystical aura.The Fountain contains 820 lights in the following configurations:
  • 16 in top bowl
  • 72 in upper trough
  • 204 in inner trough
  • 432 in lower trough
  • 24 in the isolated jets
  • 60 in the sea horses
  • 12 in the bulrushes
The computer known as the Honeywell Excel-Plus is located in the Fountain's pump house. The computer was moved here from Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1994 renovation. 
The Fountain's alarm, a system similar to a store alarm, is monitored and dispatched through Honeywell Central Station in Arlington Heights.

Buckingham Fountain was  a beautiful starting point for such a famous highway as Route 66. In 1955, shortly before the arrival of the interstate, Jackson Street, the path of Route 66 through the Loop in Downtown Chicago became a one way street. It still led  to the fountain, thus keeping it the fountain as the Eastbound terminus of Route 66, Meanwhile, the highway West moved its starting point to a block away at the intersection of Adams and Wabash.

Playlist Additions
Steve Goodman
Amazon Store

The Chicago Cub's historical tie in to Grant Park had me thinking I should write about Steve Goodman. Not only did Steve write City of New Orleans, a billboard charting hit for both Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and Willie Nelson in 1984, he was also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs. Some of his most well known songs reflect his status as a Cubs fan. Go, Cubs, Go! is still played at Wrigley Field after every Cubs win. His most well known baseball song, and for my money, one of the best baseball songs ever was A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request. in which a dying a frustrated Cubs fan describes the baseball centered funeral he would like to have at Wrigley Field.

19830430 Steve Goodman.gif
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Steve Goodman's life story is both inspiriring and tragic. He was born on July 25, 1948 in the North Side of Chicago. Like most Chicago kids from the North side, Steve was a Chicago Cub's fan when he was growing up. In high school a notable classmate was Hillary Rodham (later Clinton). Beginning in his late teens, Steve began writing and performing folk songs. At the age of 20 he was diagnosed with leukemia.

In his early 20's, Steve had been performing regularly and was involved in the Old Town School of Folk Music, where he taught and mentored an up and coming John Prine. During this time he also had a gig as an opening act at bar that Kris Kristofferson was playing at. Kristofferson liked what he heard and arranged contact between Goodman and Paul Anka who signed him to Buddha Records.

Hearing news that the Illinois Central Railroad might shut down, he took a train ride with his wife from Chicago to Mattoon, Illinois aboard the train named City Of New Orleans. The trip, and the train inspired the song City Of New Orleans. Steve included the song on his self titled first album.

Chicago Central and Illinois Central route map 1996.png
 Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

City Of New Orleans is a mourning song for a passing era of train travel that was deeply engrained in the American psyche, and more importantly was a key part in Chicago's history. Goodman indeed gave world the disappearing railroad blues.

In late 1971, Arlo Guthrie was performing in Chicago at  the Quiet Knight. Goodman attended the show and afterwords introduced himself to Guthrie, explaining that he too was singer songwriter and asked if Arlo would listen to some of his songs. In later interviews Arlo said that he wasn't very interested in hearing new songs that night (aspiring singer-songwriters were frequently asking him to listen to their music) but offered that if Goodman would buy him a beer he would stay around long enough to drink the beer and he would listen to him.

Steve Goodman made the right choice, playing City of New Orleans, Arlo loved the song and asked if he could record it. In 1972 Arlo Guthrie released his own version of  City of New Orleans,

The song was the hit single from Guthrie's hit album Hoboes Lullaby. It rose to number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song remains strongly associated with Arlo Guthrie and many music fans do not realize that Guthrie did not write it.

Steve Goodman spent a career writing noteworthy, often humorous songs, while battling leukemia. He kept up good spirits even jokingly calling himself "Cool Hand Leuk": In 1984 he passed away.

That fall, from September 19-December 15th, Willie Nelson had a number one hit album called City Of New Orleans with the title single also rising to Number One. Also that fall, Goodman's beloved Chicago Cubs made their first post season appearance since 1945.

The next year at the 27th Grammy Awards Steve Goodman received a posthumous Grammy for best country song. for Willie Nelsons version of City Of New Orleans. A few years later his 19877 posthumous release Unfinished Business received a Grammy for best Contemporary Folk Album

 by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

In 1988, Steve Goodman was able to fulfill at least part of A Dying Cub Fans Last Request when some of his ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field.

Our playlist additions today begin with several versions of Steve Goodman's most successful song City Of New Orleans. I am including a live version of Steve performing the song at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1976. It also has both Arlo (two versions both solo & in duet with Pete Seeger) and Willie's versions of the song. My collection also included versions by bluegrass band Seldom Scene, as well as by country music legend Johnny Cash.

  • City Of New Orleans (8/29/76) Philadelphia Folk Festival - 40th Anniversary  Steve Goodman 5:20
  • City Of New Orleans The Best Of Arlo Guthrie Arlo Guthrie 4:33
  • City Of New Orleans Greatest Hits Live In Concert Willie Nelson 4:54
  • City Of New Orleans Together In Concert  Arlo Guthrie & Pete Seeger 4:30
  • City Of New Orleans        The Best of Seldom Scene The Seldom Scene 3:03
  • City Of New Orleans Bootleg 3: Live Around the World  Johnny Cash 4:11

We continue with Steve Goodman's album Affordable Art. It was the second album on his own Red Pajamas label (the first being a live release) and it would be the last album he would release in his lifetime. It features a great version of Take Me Out To the Ball Game, and A Dying Cub Fans Last Request,  which has a special morbid curiosity given Goodman's poor health at the time. Vegematic tells the story of a guy falling asleep and "sleep ordering" a bunch of of ridiculous gadgets sold on the late night infomercials. Goodman's old prodigy, John Prine joins him for track called Souvenirs, Overall, it is a pretty good album.

Affordable Art Steve Goodman

  • If Jethro Were Here 2:29
  • Vegematic 2:59
  • Old Smoothies 4:14
  • Talk Backwards 2:33
  • How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night?) 2:29
  • When My Rowboat Comes In 3:38
  • Souvenirs 3:33
  • Take Me Out To The Ballgame 2:34
  • A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request 6:02
  • California Promises  2:45
  • Grand Canyon Song 3:38 
  • Watchin' Joey Glow 2:42

After Affordable Art, my Steve Goodman collection almost runs out. I do have a couple of loose tracks that I do not remember where I got them but they make the playlist. Go! Cubs ,Go! , which I mentioned earlier and Lincoln Park Pirates, a song about predatory tow trucks.

  • Go Cubs Go! Steve Goodman 2:49
  • Lincoln Park Pirates Steve Goodman 3:39

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  1. We were in Chicago last year but the weather was awful and we were on bicycles. It is a city we want to return too. When we do I will make sure I see out Buckingham Fountain.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I understand Chicago is a good city to bicycle in. The whole park looks worth exploring.

  3. Thanks for your comment. I understand Chicago is a good city to bicycle in. The whole park looks worth exploring.