On our first evening in Chicago in June of 2016, we decided to spend some time checking out the Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park area. It was very beautiful when it was all lit up at night. For those of you that don’t know, it is one of the largest fountains in the world. The fountain is built in a rococo wedding cake style and inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, it is meant to allegorically represent Lake Michigan. It operates from April to October, with regular water shows and evening color-light shows. During the winter, the fountain is decorated with festival lights.
The Buckingham Fountain was donated to the city by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, and was constructed at a cost of $750,000. The fountain’s official name is the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain and was dedicated on August 26, 1927.
Apparently, during the planning phases, Kate Buckingham expressed that she wanted the fountain’s lighting to emulate “soft moonlight.” According to an early Chicago Park District brochure, “though advanced in years,” Miss Buckingham “worked night after night with technicians, trying out various colors of glass and adjusting the control of electric current” to produce “blends… that pleased her— and indeed, there is a mystical aura around the lighted fountain suggesting moonlight— in fairyland.”
Here are some specs about the actual fountain. First, the water capacity is 1.5 million gallons. Depending on wind conditions, major displays recirculate approximately 14,100 gallons of water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. Water is recirculated 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 top of the upper basin stands 25 feet above the water in the lower basin. The fountain has its original underground pump house with two levels. The control room is located on the first level, and the lower level pump room is 35 feet long, 25 feet wide. The original pumps and motors are still in operation today.
For years, the fountain was entirely manually operated by two engineers who each worked a twelve-hour daily shift. Although the evening light show was first automated in 1968, the water continued to be manually operated until 1980, when the operations were fully computerized. From 1983 to 1994, the fountain’s computer was located in Atlanta. Today, however, it is on-site and with a monitoring system in Arlington Heights, IL.
We got there a little bit before dusk and watched it get darker and darker. It was so cool to see the lights change as the night got darker. I thought there was supposed to be music too, but we didn’t hear any while we were there. We did, however, take quite a few pictures and happily took a few for other visitors. One thing I wanted to mention about the lights that I learned while doing research is that it has 820 lights. They are in the following configurations:
16 in the top bowl
72 in the upper trough
204 in the inner trough
432 in the lower trough
24 in the isolated jets
60 in the sea horses
12 in the bulrushes
It had a very nice joyous feeling around the Buckingham Fountain. After walking around for a while we decided to grab a light meal at the little cafe they have there and just enjoy our first night relaxing and watching the lights. What I really enjoyed was also looking at the Chicago skyline and trying to figure out which buildings were which, lol. Of course, the three famous ones we easily recognized were The Sears Tower (will always be Sears to me, the John Hancock Building, and the diamond building which we learned is the Stone Container Building (although it has several names too). It was a great way to start our trip to Chicago and soak up the Chicago vibe. Hope you enjoyed the info about the Buckingham Fountain. Here is a link with more info.
.Buckingham Fountain Visitor Information
301 S. Columbus Dr.
Chicago, IL 60601
Daily 8 am – 11 pm
Directions to Buckingham Fountain (Chicago) with public transportation
The following transit lines have routes that pass near Buckingham Fountain
- Bus: 126, 143, 22, 3, 36, 4, 56, 6, 7, J14
- Train: MD-N, RI, SSL, UP-N, UP-NW
- Chicago ‘L’: BLUE LINE, BROWN LINE, GREEN LINE, RED LINE
Again, like any downtown area, it’s best to take public transportation. For those who choose to drive, the most convenient parking for the Buckingham Fountain park is at Grant Park South Garage. Reduced rate pre-purchased parking is available online at all Millennium Garages. Map below –
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