Monday, May 31, 2010

Photo of the Week: Welcome Home, Mr. President

Bartholomew Photo

We have been running to and from the windows since last Thursday, reacting to the sound of helicopter rotors as the President came and left his hometown this Memorial Day weekend.

We watched the helicopters come by our condo Thursday evening, then return to O'Hare, flying west into the setting sun.  Early Friday morning I saw them swing by again on their way to pick the Commander-in-Chief up for his trip to Louisiana.  Back they came that night.  Their final trip was this afternoon as they took President Obama back to O'Hare for the return to the nation's capital.

In addition to watching the comings and goings from the air, I also got to sit in traffic on Lake Shore Drive, about a quarter mile from McCormick Place, as the motorcade dropped the President off at the landing site.  Traffic was stopped in both directions, so I had a chance to listen to sports radio for 15 minutes, sitting in the sunlight at the beginning of a beautiful day with the car's engine off and the windows rolled down.

It couldn't have been much of a vacation for him.  He spent most of Friday on the Gulf coast, observing the increasingly alarming environmental disaster that is reaching the end of its second month.  Today he ended up in the middle of a severe thunderstorm at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, standing in the middle of a downpour, urging people who had waited for hours for the ceremony to take to their cars for their own safety.

Still, for us Chicagoans, it was great to have him back in town.  We all stood a little taller this weekend.  We know who we are . . . we know who he is . . . and we know what we can all become if we can just start looking around for someone we can help rather than spending our time and energy, trying to find someone whom we can blame.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trump This

Bartholomew Photo

I had a chance last night to take a tour of the only unsold penthouse atop Trump Tower -- 14,000 square feet of space with 360 degrees of Chicago 90 or so floors below, on the other side of the 14-foot high, floor-to-ceiling windows.

Someone with 30 million or so bucks is going to be very, very happy with the digs.

Say what you want about the developer, Trump is a good neighbor.  It takes the dazzling white brilliance of the Wrigley building to the east and the black-tie formality of Mies van der Rohe's final commercial design and comes up with a glitzy silver facade.  

The mass of the building is lifted 40 feet above the ground to allow the site to run in subtle terraces down to the river. Despite its 92 stories, it sits parallel to the river, observes the city's strict street grid, and somehow manages to preserve unobstructed views up and down the river.

But that's not all.  Its setbacks -- the points where the building becomes more slender -- are designed to pay homage to its three most famous neighbors.  Level 16, where the first setback occurs at 216 feet, matches the height of the body of the Wrigley Building's roofline.  The second setback, which occurs at the 29th level of 396 feet, matches the top of Marina City.  And Level 51 at 659 feet matches the height of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building, now 320 North Wabash.

It's a brilliant and empathetic design, one just now beginning to be softened even more by a  Hoerr Schaudt landscape design of plantings native to the tower's river site.

But, my oh my oh my, that penthouse!  I went home to my 1150 square foot condo, feeling   like a staff member of Jimmy Carter's White House when the Great Communicator strode in.  The "sauna," adjacent to the "workout room," both of them overlooking Grant Park with views all the way to Indiana, is bigger than the living area of most downtown condos.

Here are just a few of the pictures I took as the sun went down on a beautiful spring night.

Quite a night.  Quite a building.  Quite a city.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Photo of the Week: Wood Gull

Location:  Merchandise Mart, River Promenade
Sculptor:  Minna Harkavy
Installed:  1953

The gull rests on the head of Robert Elkington Wood as his bust, commissioned by Joseph P. Kennedy, stands at the east end of the Merchandising Hall of Fame along the Chicago River.  In 1945 Kennedy bought the building, which cost close to 40 million bucks to construct in 1930, for 13 million.  When the Kennedy's unloaded the building in 1998, they got close to 550 million for the thing.

Wood graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1900.  He served in the Philippines during the Philippine insurrection and for ten years in the Panama Canal zone during construction of the canal.  He was named Quartermaster General of the Army toward the end of World War I.

In 1919 Mr. Wood turned from the military to merchandising, taking a position as the general merchandise manager before being named vice-president.  He left Montgomery Ward in 1924 to take a position with Sears and Roebuck and Co. as the vice-president in charge of its factory operations.

In this capacity Mr. Wood initiated a program to open Sears retail stores outside of major cities, and the success of this expansion program brought Wood the presidency of Sears in January of 1928.  In 1939 he was named chairman, and he continued to direct Sears throughout World War II.

From 1945 to 1953, based on a program that Mr. Wood had assembled during the war, Sears spent more than $300 million on additional stores.  Sears went form being the largest mail-order business in the world -- but one primarily serving the rural population -- to the world's largest merchandiser.  Wood also created the All State Insurance Company as a subsidiary of Sears.

Mr. Wood retired from Sears in 1954, but remained an honorary chairman of the board.  he died in 1969 at this home in Lake Forest, Illinois.  He was 90-years-old.

The gull in the photograph chose Wood's bust over the busts of seven other giants of the merchandising world, lined up on the south side of the Merchandise Mart, in what David Letterman once referred to as the Pez Hall of Fame.  The other honorees are:  Julius Rosenwald, Frank Woolworth, Marshall Field, John Wanamaker, George Hartford, Edward Filene and Montgomery Ward.

Minna Harkavy, the sculptor, was born in Estonia and came to the United States with her family around 1900, where she settled in New York City.  She taught sculpture in a studio set up in her penthouse atop the Ansonia Hotel, a hotel on Broadway between 73rd and 74th Streets.  At one time or another residents of the hotel included Babe Ruth, Arturo Toscanini, Enrico Caruso, Igor Stravinsky, and Theodore Dreiser.  

Ms. Harkavy was best known for her oversized sculptures of heads or figures in stone, bronze or clay.  Wood's bust is quite exceptional in her work since most of her sculptures depicted subjects that reflected her social and political views, views that were decidedly different than Mr. Wood's. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nebát se a nekrást: Thomas Mazaryk

Thomas Mazaryk Statute -- University of Chicago (Bartholomew Photo)

Nebát se a nekrást -- do not fear and do not steal -- a good life motto for a hero.  And Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk will always be a hero in Czechoslovakia.

According to the Czechoslovakian legend, deep within a mountain the knights of Blanik sleep, waiting for a leader to summon them and deliver their people from oppressors. That leader came forth in November, 1918 when Thomas Maszryk, a blacksmith who made himself into a world-renowned professor of philosophy, convinced the Allied nations to make Czechoslovakia a sovereign state after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I.  

Thomas Mazaryk (Wikipedia Photo)

Masaryk was elected first president of the new nation in 1918 during a triumphal visit to the University of Chicago, where he had been a faculty member once before in 1902 and 1908.  The Czech Parliament re-elected to the presidency in 1920, 1927 and 1934.  His death in 1937 led Chicagoans of Slovakian descent to search for a way to honor the great hero.

Subscriptions were solicited and $50,000 was collected for a statue to stand on the University of Chicago campus.  The Director of Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, Albin Polasek, who was born in Moravia and who took his formal art training at the Frank Furness designed Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, was selected as the sculptor of the equestrian monument.

Albin Polasek (Wikipedia Photo)

Even though the bronze for the work had been purchased, the war effort during World War II delayed the completion of the work.  Finally, on September 14, 1949 The Chicago Tribune announced that the eight-ton statue was on its way to Chicago from New York City, where it had been cast.  The 18-foot high sculpture was disassembled and shipped in three sections.

(Bartholomew Photo)

Two days later the paper reported, "The big equestrian bronze statue to Thomas G. Masaryk, father and first president of Czechoslovakia, was taken back for repairs today to the foundry in Queens borough in which it was made, after one of the three sections fell from a truck bearing it to Chicago."  

Tall statue . . . low bridge.  A chain snapped as the sculpture hit a girder as the truck crossed the Queensboro bridge over the East River, and the huge piece of bronze, including the bodies of both the horse and its rider, hit the deck.  According to The Tribune, "Lamar A. Gano, driver of the truck . . . was given a summons for failing to obtain a permit to transport the statue.  Manhattan bound traffic on the bridge was tied up between 5:30 and 6 p.m. by the mishap.

In today's age of round-the-clock journalism, can you imagine the coverage an overturned Knight of Blanik lying in the middle of the Queensboro bridge, with traffic tied up for miles, would receive?

Portions of the work had to be recast, but the statue finally arrived in Chicago -- by truck -- at the end of November, 1949.  It was mounted on a pedestal at the east end of Midway Plaisance with no fanfare, and It wasn't until 1955 that the monument dedicated on May 29.

(Bartholomew Photo)

More than 2,000 person attended the dedication.  Senator Roman Hruska, Republican senator from Iowa, was the principal speaker.  Senator Everett Dirksen and Mayor Richard J. Daley also contributed remarks.  Hruska said of Masaryk, "We honor him as the philosopher who became a statesman in spite of himself, as the father of a state who was also its simplest citizen, and as an unchallengeably firm democrat who believed in the rule of tolerance."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photo of the Week: Daphne

(Bartholomew Photo)

Location:  Congress Parkway, just east of Michigan Avenue
Sculptor:  Dessa Kirk
Installed:  December 3, 2008

In the myth of Daphne, Apollo is big-time smitten with the lovely Daphne, who wants to wander the woodlands far more than she wants to mess around with some wooing god.  Still, Apollo chases after her, rather more of a hubba-la-bubbla-boomsky guy looking for a good time than an Olympian.

"I suffer a malady no balm can cure," Apollo shouts after the fleeing maiden.  But Daphne is well aware of what his malady is and wants no part of being the cure.

Losing the foot race, Daphne calls out to her father, Peneus, the god of a thousand rivers, asking him to let the earth swallow her or to change her form.  Instantly, she is transformed into a laurel tree, her femininity enclosed in bark, her feet rooted to the ground.

The myth of Daphne is an important force in Ms. Kirk's work; more of her Daphne sculptures may be seen on the east side of Northerly Island.  She explained in an interview, " My work is often about surrendering or giving up something to get. A lot of times I don't have the answer, but I take a leap of faith of what's good for me, and ask whatever's out there in the sky-- the universe to help me." [Interview with Dessa Kirk by Vittorio Carli.]

Ms. Kirk came to study at the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of 18 after attending welding school in Alaska.  She says that she never attended high school, but got her education on the streets.   She said of that time, "I'd see these sad women ride around in fancy Cadilacs. They were being sold to acquire the Cadillac's--which were seen as beautiful. Then at the end of the day, they would be hidden inside, and there was beauty hidden inside the beauty. So I bought a Cadillac, and I decided to deconstruct it and reconstruct the beauty." [Carli]

Daphne stands in a conspicuous location, facing west on Congress with a flag pole directly behind her and Ivan Meštrović's Bowman and Spearman somewhat farther behind her on the right and left.  

Ms. Kirk offers her take on the location in this way . . . "She's striding forward. It's the heart of entering downtown and there's a lot of flowing of traffic, which is like blood, and the water's right behind. So if you look up Congress going east, there's two Indians on each side and, then there's a flagpole in the middle with a triangle. To me it's like the bow of the ship. So I made this woman leaning forward like the bow of the ship leading the way. It speaks a lot about freedom and fearless and free living." [Carli]

Freedom and fearless and free living.  That's a pretty good message to send at the place where Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett envisioned the terminus of the grand entrance to Chicago's downtown. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Bus Ride: Reprise

I've been riding the bus more frequently in the past week, mostly because the weather in early May has been nastier than the weather in early March.  I've had to leave the bike high and dry in the bike room and use the bus to get downtown.

Not entirely a bad deal . . . the bus ride, even a short trip downtown . . . often leads to something a suburbanite might live his entire life and never see or hear.

In my March 15 blog I wrote about my bus ride downtown in which I sat in front of a tortured urban poet.  "I got knots in my wrists and bees in my hands from all the writin' downtown," she shouted a half-dozen inches behind my good ear.

Pure poetry, I had thought that day.

On Saturday I had a poetic shout-out on my way downtown.  Only this one lasted for the entire trip.

I've been on a bus with this guy before, about a month ago, on the old 151 headed North.  He got on at Water Tower Place and got off just north of the zoo.

Saturday he boarded the old 151 at Sheridan and Diversey, my bus stop.

You'd know this guy immediately if you saw him.  He's well-dressed, with a nice checked shirt and a carefully knotted tie.  He has long, shoulder-length iron-grey hair and is sort of a cross between a wild looking Clark Griswold, a surbanized Neil Young, and Barnard Hughes of the 1971 movie, The Hospital (I am the peroclete of Caborka, I am the wrath of the lamb and the angel of the bottomless pit . . .)

To hear the Peraclete of Caborka, forward to about 1:45 into scene . . .

He talks in an earnest, conversational voice in syntactic constructions that one would find natural, even lovely, in writing, but, when spoken, come across as REALLY weird.

The weird thing is that, most of the time, you have the feeling that he is speaking directly to YOU.  This was disconcerting on that first ride because my faulty hearing made me believe that he actually was speaking to me.

That was before I realized he was nuts.

This time I knew what was coming when he got on in front of me at my stop.  But the bus was crowded and we ended up sitting right across the aisle from one another.

"The vision I had from Jesus was a black shoe on a foot, and the black shoe means, 'Fly'," he began. 

See what I'm saying?  

But you can't understand it, really, until you hear it.  Because when he says it, you feel yourself thinking, "Yeah, the black shoe means "Fly."  Yeah, sure, I can see that."  Because he says it so earnestly, so cogently, that it seems like it just has to make sense.

"Say I'm a Jew five times."

Really long pause.  Exactly enough time for all of us near him to follow instructions.

"And that's how long it will take for God to see your darkness and throw you into the pit."

It's a continuing monologue . . . never more than ten seconds between the end of one thought and the beginning of another.

"Angels coming down form the rooftops . . . what's your name, angel?"

I resisted the temptation to look up at the roof of the Crate and Barrel store.

"But I'm Richard Harris, and you're going to live forever."

On and on and on.

The best part of all?  It's Saturday, the second Saturday in May, bridge opening day.

So while five lucky muckety-mucks sail their sloops under the raised Michigan Avenue bridge, the rest of us sit on the old 151 in front of the Wrigley Building, motionless, trapped for ten minutes, listening to a non-stop narrative about angels, the pit and Richard Harris.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photo of the Week: 55 West Monroe

(Bartholomew Photo)

Address: 55 West Monroe, Chicago, Illinois
Architect:  Helmut Jahn for C. F. Murphy Associates
Construction Finish:  1980
Height:  45 stories; 495 feet (151 meters)
Space:  1,528,000 square feet; 41,500 square feet per floor

About the Architect
Helmut Jahn came to Chicago in 1966 after studying at the Technical University of Munich.  He began work at the Illinois Institute of Technology, studying under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the master of the mid-century modernist style.  Jahn joined C. F. Murphy Associates in 1967 and was named Executive Vice-President and Director of Design for the firm.  The firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn in 1985.

Since Murphy worked for Peirce Anderson and since Anderson worked for Daniel Burnham, Helmut Jahn's practice is a direct descendant of the Burnham firm.

About the Building
Originally planned as two towers, filling up the block between Clark, Dearborn, Adams and Monroe, the plan was scaled back when the Italian Village declined offers to sell its property.  The result was this single reinforced concrete concrete building which attracted Xerox as its principal tenant.  When the building opened it was known as the Xerox Building.

This was the first of Helmut Jahn's major projects in Chicago.  55 West Monroe holds its own on a corner in which it faces two iconic neighbors -- the soaring parabola of Chase Bank to the north and the stainless steel glamor of the landmarked Inland Steel Building, diagonally across Dearborn.

An interesting feature of the building is that as it rounds the corner at Dearborn and Monroe, its windows change to accommodate differences in norther and southern sunlight.  The southern wall is 75% glass while the eastern wall is only 55% glass.

Just two block north of Mies's Federal Center, the building breaks with the taut order of Miesian modernism.  Instead of using steel, Jahn chose reinforced concrete for the building's structure.  While its reflective glass curtain wall references mid-century modernism, it shows the exposed rows of columns of that style only as it rounds the corner.  Only at the entrance to the building are the columns exposed and the building's structure revealed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gutzon Borglum's "Sheridan"

I wrote a couple weeks ago about Gutzon Borglum's statue of John Peter Altgeld  hidden in the trees across the street from our front door.   Borglum, who was responsible for wresting the busts of four presidents out of the Black Hills between 1927 and 1941, was awarded the commission for Altgeld's statue in 1914.  

But there were two earlier commissions, awarded to Borglum in 1907 and 1909, that really brought the sculptor critical attention.  One of those statues is is located in Sheridan Circle in the nation's capital.  The other is located about six blocks up Sheridan Road from the Altgeld statue in Chicago.  Both of Borglum's works are equestrian statues honoring General Philip H. Sheridan and Winchester, his favorite mount.

General Philip Sheridan at Sheridan and Belmont (Bartholomew Photo)

The General was, of course, a hero of the Civil War.  Ulysses S. Grant had noticed his boldness and ability early on and by 1864 had promoted him to Chief of Cavalry.  Shortly thereafter Sheridan's troops laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley.  Grant later wrote, "No man ever had such a faculty o finding things out as Sheridan.  He was always the best informed men in his command as to the enemy." [Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1965]

Sheridan had a particular importance in Chicago in the years after the war.  He was stationed in Chicago in 1871 as Commander of the Military Division of the Missouri.  After the Great Fire in October of that year, he summoned six companies of regular infantry to the devastated city in order to secure its burned sections and gathered a volunteer guard of a thousand men to protect the unburned areas.  

In fact, the story goes, the fire would have devastated the southern part of the city as well as the north, had not Sheridan quickly ordered buildings blown up on south Wabash Avenue near what is now Congress Street.

Watching the labor unrest in Chicago in the 1880's, he warned of "an armed conflict . . . between Capital and Labor."  He predicted, "They will oppose each other not with words and arguments, but with shot and shell, gunpowder and cannon.  The better classes are tired of the insane howlings of the lowest strata and they mean to stop them."  [Miller, Donald L.  City of the Century]

Fort Sheridan in the early days (

In fact, a military post north of the city was established in 1887, the year after the Haymarket Riot, and in 1888, it was named Ft. Sheridan upon the death of the general.

It isn't surprising, then, that as early as 1893 there was a movement to create a memorial honoring the general at a conspicuous place within the city.  On June 23, The Chicago Tribune announced that a former Cook County Treasuer, W. T. Johnson, offered a gift of $50,000 to fund a statue of Sheridan "if they will provide a suitable site for it at the head of the Sheridan drive."

We'll leave unanswered the question of how a one-term Cook County Treasurer came up with 50,000 bucks for a piece of public statuary.  Miracles happen every day in Chicago.

The nation's capital got it done first, unveiling a Borglum statue of Sheridan and Winchester on November 25, 1908.  

Family legend has it that shortly before his death, Sheridan and his wife were out walking one night and came upon the statue of General Winfield Scott.  Sheridan supposedly turned to his wife and said, "Whatever you do after I am gone, don't put me on a horse like that." []

Gutzon Borglum's "Sheridan" in Sheridan Circle, Washington, D.C.  (

Borglum's effort was the perfect response to Sheridan's request.  It was Borglum who had said earlier that Washington had gotten used to "ridiculous clothespin men on wooden horses."  His unconventional technique -- the roughness of the horse and rider and the fact that the pair is set low to the ground -- emphasized the boldness and courage that Grant had seen in Sheridan in 1862.

Finally, on July 16, 1924 Mary Sheridan, General Sheirdan's daughter, unveiled the statue at Belmont Avenue and Sheridan Road as hundreds of infantrymen stood at attention.  The Chicago Tribune proclaimed, "Thousands of motorists, to whom twenty miles is a mere trifle to travel, will pass it daily." [The Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1924]

Things change, though, and the general's monument is squeezed in a triangle between Sheridan Road and a Lake Shore Drive off ramp. 

With the Chicago statue, Gutzon Borglum portrays General Sheridan seated on his horse as the commander of the Army of the Shenandoah on October 19, 1864, rallying his troops with his outstretched arm.  He is seated on his horse with his body half-turned as he reins in his horse from a full gallop. []

This was the day on which Sheridan and his horse became legends.  Southern General Jubal Anderson Early had brought his troops into a strategic position from which they could launch an attack on Washington, D. C., and Sheridan was away in Winchester, Virginia when his troops were attacked and put on the run at Cedar Creek.

Gutzon Borglum's "Sheridan" at Belmont and Sheridan, Chicago (Bartholomew Photo)

Sheridan spurred his mount to the front lines, twenty miles away.  Finding his men in full retreat, he took a few hours to prepare his forces, then ordered an advance,  sweeping the enemy from the field in one of the most overwhelming and decisive engagements of the war.

Congress passed a vote of thanks to Sheridan and his troops for the “brilliant series of victories in the valley,” and especially the one at Cedar Creek. Sheridan was appointed by the President a major-general in the army “for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops,” as the order expressed it, “displayed by you on October 19th."  [] 

Sheridan's horse, Winchester, had been presented to him by officers of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry in Rienzi, Mississippi in 1862, and Sheridan rode the horse he called "Rienzi" in nearly every engagement for the remainder of the war.  After the battle of Cedar Creek, Sheridan changed his mount's name to Winchester.  

Winchester at Belmont and Sheridan (Bartholomew Photo)

Sheridan said of Winchester, "He was an animal of great intelligence and immense strength and endurance.  he always held his head high, and by the quickness of his movements gave many persons the idea that he was exceedingly impetuous.  This was not so, for I could at any time control him by a firm hand and a few words, and he was cool and quiet under fire as one of my soldiers.  I doubt if his superior as a horse for field service was ever ridden by any one." []

Sheridan is immortalized in the statue.  Winchester, too, lives on in two separate ways.

First, there is the poem, Sheridan's Ride, by Thomas Buchanan Read, which ends with these words:

And when their statues are placed on hgih
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier's Temple of Fame,
There, with the glorious general's name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
"Here is the steed that saved the day
By carrying Sheridan inot the fight,
From Winchester--twenty miles away!

When Winchester died in 1878 his body was mounted and presented by Sheridan to the museum of the Military Service Institution of the United States at Governors Island in New York City.  Later Winchester was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution where the gallant steed may be viewed in the Hall of Armed Forces History in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Today Borglum's sculpture seems strangely out of place in its island, largely cut off from visitors by the traffic entering and leaving Lake Shore Drive or turning down Belmont.  A Sheridan Road bus stop backs up to the little park, and people wait for the 151 with their backs turned to this frozen and frantic dash of horse and rider, fading slowly away as the future unfolds.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Goin' Up the Country

I love Chicago . . . I really do.  But sometimes you have to leave the city in order to appreciate it that much more when you return.

So it was that we packed our bags and headed out to Gillette, Wyoming for a few days this past week.  Jill had a speaking engagement there for a number of Wyoming parks and recreation folks, and I came along for the ride.

It's kind of intimidating for a guy like me to head to a place that has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate just once in the past 60 years.  I'm not a wacko liberal nut, but I call Chicago home -- and we don't really do the Republican thing around here.

My concern was unfounded.  In Wyoming I discovered a place that goes a long way (and everywhere in Wyoming is a long way from everywhere else) toward making the U.S.of A. the place that it is.

Wyoming folks look you in the eye when they shake your hand.  And they shake your hand firmly, all of them, men and women.

They like to stand in the doorway, leaning against the door frame with one hand in their jeans pocket, and talk quietly.  They laugh often . . . and heartily.

They're fine with getting out the rifle to shoot rabbits in the backyard in order to protect their gardens.  They don't get in long conversations about Constitutional rights and such.  The rifle and the bow and arrow are accepted as a part of the life they live.

Wyoming is a place where the buffalo still roam.  We saw a herd of them not far out of Gillette at the Durham Buffalo Ranch, which has 2,500 purebred American Bison with 1,100 breeder cows.  You look at these awkwardly arranged beasts minding their own business amid the buttes, and you get a real idea of what the high plains must have once been. 

 Photo courtesty of Durham Ranch (

Family is important out there.  Folks tend to stay where they were born, so there is a constant stream of phone calls from sons and daughters, and assorted groups of grandkids coming and going, lots of hugs, lots of taking off and putting on small pairs of sneakers.

We had some time to take in the countryside and thanks to our hosts, Dave and Wendy, we saw them in fine style.

First, we drove out to Devil's Tower, dedicated by Old Teddy Roosevelt himself as the nation's first national monument.  Whether it was by volcanic eruption or sub-strata intrusion (I don't know if there is such a thing, but I love the sound of it), nature created a landmark perfect for taking pictures.

Bartholomew Photo

It's not so high or wide that you can't get the whole thing in the lens when standing at the base.  And it's magnificent enough to show its majesty in the puny confines of a photo frame, especially when you note the size of the climbers in the shadows of the rock face.

Bartholomew Photo

And it's perfectly framed by Ponderosa pines, allowing any nimrod with a digital camera to produce photos that could run in National Geographic

Yeah, in Chicago we have John Root's Monadnock Building, which is what we call monolithic, but we don't have anything like the Bear's Tipi, the base of which is ringed with prayer cloths, on which climbers voluntarily suspend activity in June to honor the sacred ceremonies.

We walked around the base of the monolith in the sunshine and clean air of a mile-high spring day.  The spirits of the place were working.  I'd be leaving prayer cloths, too, if I could feel this young every few weeks.

Inspired, we drove back to Gillette and opened up a bottle of good wine.

The next day the Dave and Wendy's son-in-law dropped by with his three-year-old son in a hard hat.  Shane works in the largest surface coal mine in the country, and he came by on his day off to show us around the office.

Shane, our guide, talks about his pride in the work he does

We got out of the car at the headquarters of one of the world's largest surface coal mine, an operation that provides eight percent of the country's coal, loading up 25 miles of railroad cars every single day.  You figure one hopper full of coal runs about 100 tons, and you quickly realize this place works a lot of coal.

With Shane at the wheel we made our way around the operation.  I'm used to the noise of the el and the screaming of the sirens headed to St. Joe's next door.  I walk through canyons made by tall buildings almost every day.

I have never, ever seen anything this big, a place where everything is giant-sized.  Over a hundred trucks were at work, each one six times the size of our van.  Replace one tire on one of these monsters, and you've spent 40,000 bucks.

A haul truck in action (Bartholomew photo)

Two dispatchers back at headquarters sit at a bank of computer screens and follow everything that is going on, right down to the smallest detail.  They know at any one time how many tons of rock the excavators are moving each minute, which trucks need gas, how much coal is being crushed and delivered to the various storage facilities.  They even know who is riding the brakes or mashing the gears on the big rigs.

Another 200 tons (Bartholomew Photo)

Without too many details, we found ourselves parked to the side of the largest dragline excavator in the world, a 50-million dollar machine the size of a Lake Forest mansion that can move 200 tons of rock in one pass.  

The dragline works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, back and forth, over 400 tons of rock moving every minute.  It never stops.  But it stopped for us.  When I found out that we were actually going to climb up into the thing, I became a little kid again.

Being in that cab for the five minutes or so that we watched was unlike anything I have ever seen or done.  The operation was so smooth, so quiet.  The operator had a deft hand.  He put the bucket right where he wanted it, at the precise angle he wanted it, without a pause.  

Revealing a coal seam, 200 tons at a time (Bartholomew Photo)

A giant bite of earth and rock.  A smooth lift-and-pivot to the right, the dump beginning before the arc of the giant machine's arm reached its limit, finishing just at the moment it could go no farther.  A return without pause to the starting point, where the process was repeated over again.

 A coal seam is mined (Bartholomew Photo)

Then, after ten minutes or so, the klaxons sounded, the monster machine halted, and we made our way down two flights of stairs to the ground.  Our descent was, I am sure, monitored back in headquarters, where it was certainly noted that whatever was going on out on the big dragline had cost the company 3,000 tons of shifted stone. 

Impressed beyond words, we made the long drive back to Gillette and opened a bottle of good wine.

Before we knew it, the time came to leave, and when we woke up on the morning of April 30, it was snowing.  At the airport our plane had to be deiced twice before the pilot felt that he could take off.

It wasn't a long trip, but Wyoming impressed the heck out of me, along with its people.  What a country that can hold the Great Plains and the Great Lakes in its heart and still have room for so much more.