I guess I gave in to peer pressure when it came to visiting the Sears Tower; had I been on my own, I doubt if I’d have visited it. But since I was exploring downtown with three colleagues, I found myself in the minority. Everybody wanted to ride to the top of the tallest building in the USA.
We paid up $11.95 each, and were ushered into a small movie hall, where we (along with some thirty or forty other visitors), were shown a brief video on the history of Sears, Roebuck and Co.; the design and building of the Sears Tower; statistics; and more. What I found particularly quirky was the unusual way in which the design of the tower was finalised. Architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan were dining out and Khan was trying to describe his concept of a 'stepped’ tower, when Graham took out a pack of cigarettes. He pulled out the cigarettes, then pushed some back in, and some even further in. And hey presto, there, in Graham’s hand, was a miniature replica of what Khan had in mind!
The Sears Tower was built 1970-74, and two decades later, in 1995, Sears ended up vacating the building. It is now occupied by various offices, but the Skydeck, which offers panoramic views of the Chicago cityscape, continues to be a big draw.
The Skydeck sprawls around a central block, which is decorated all over with interesting photographs, illustrations, and bits of information about Chicago - from the fact that its name is derived from the Potawatomi word, checagou, which translates as 'wild onion’, to detailed (and tragic descriptions) of the Chicago Fire, supposedly begun by the ill-judged actions of a cow! Equally absorbing were the anecdotes of famous denizens of Chicago - down to the bartender Mickey Finn, whose potent brews were capable of knocking out even hardened tipplers. What I liked was the fact that there’s a child-high stretch of information too, winding its way all around the central section. Here, kids can look at old life-size photographs to see what children wore to the beach in 1910; how their mothers would have dressed them in the 1880s; what their lunches would have consisted of in 1940. Cool!
Most people, of course, come to the Skydeck to see the view- and it’s pretty spectacular. We had the misfortune of visiting the Sears Tower on a cloudy day, so our experience wasn’t as fantastic as it could have been. But yes, we did see quite a few amazing buildings all around - and Lake Michigan, glittering silvery and cold under a thin blanket of snow, looked enchanting. Had it been a clear day, we would probably have been able to see 50 miles round.
The Sears Tower Skydeck is open 10 to 10 in summer (May to September) and 10 to 8 the rest of the year. Over a million visitors arrive here every year, so be prepared for long queues, especially on clear, sunny days.