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Chicago's Buckingham Fountain "fully operational" after being dyed red by protesters

Chicago's Buckingham Fountain reopens after being vandalized by war protesters
Chicago's Buckingham Fountain reopens after being vandalized by war protesters 02:41

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Park District announced on Sunday that the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park is "on and fully operational" after protesters vandalized it over the weekend.

The protesters dyed the water in the fountain red and spray-painted the bricks on the surrounding plaza.

A source told CBS Chicago that vandals dumped a highly concentrated pond dye into the water. The dye is thought to be non-toxic, but the fountain was still shut down.

The messages "Gaza is bleeding" and "Stop genocide" were also scrawled on the plaza in front of the fountain. The messages have since been removed.


Staff said the vandalism happened sometime after 11 p.m. Friday after the fountain was turned off for the night. The red substance spread gradually throughout the water surrounding the fountain.

Staff said they had drained the water about halfway. But they said every time they put clean water in, the water has stayed so opaque that they believe whatever was used to color the water is still too strong to dilute.


The fountain is turned on again manually by staff every morning. The staff conduct a routine look around to check conditions for the nearly-century-old structure.

These staffers were the ones who noticed the issue.

Staff said that while the red substance does not appear to be staining, they are nonetheless concerned it could permanently damage the fountain. So, they decided to keep the fountain off until the issue was resolved.

Chicago Police said no arrests were made, and no injuries were reported. 

During the day on Saturday, many people were left confused as they had hoped to see the iconic landmark in action.

"I expected to see water! I mean, come on, and yeah, it's a little disappointing," said Tom Martin, who was visiting from Washington. "I'm somewhat sympathetic to what they're trying to accomplish, but this is not the way."

"We've been walking all day, and I'm like, what? And so I go to my phone to see what hours it comes on, because I thought maybe it is a night thing—and that's when I found the news article that it had been, I guess, vandalized," said Karen Wintz, who was visiting from the New Orleans area.

Chicago's Buckingham Fountain vandalized by protesters 02:38

A staff member said he gave a water sample to the Park District environmental team, but there was no word on what specifically caused the color change.

A couple of weeks ago, a pro-Palestinian protest tent encampment was set up in front of Buckingham Fountain—only to be taken down by Chicago Police right away.

Brief history of Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain, meant to represent Lake Michigan, opened in 1927 and is still one of the largest fountains in the world.

Its wedding cake-style design was inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles. The sets of sea horses symbolize the four states the lake touches: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

Contrary to what some may claim, Buckingham Fountain's name has nothing to do with Buckingham Palace or the British Royal Family. Kate Buckingham, a Chicago art patron and philanthropist, donated the fountain to the city in memory of her brother, Clarence.

Architect Edward Bennett—a longtime associate of the legendary Daniel Burnham—designed the fountain along with French sculptor Marcel François Loyau and engineer Jacques Lambert.

Buckingham Fountain's display uses as much as 15,000 gallons of water per minute and sprays water 150 feet into the air.

The fountain was manually operated from its opening through the 1970s, and was first automated in 1980 using an onsite computer and a remote monitoring system. The system was originally based in the Chicago suburbs, but was moved to Atlanta for several years in the 1980s and 90s.

The monitoring system returned to the suburbs in 1994, and since 2013, all automation and monitoring has taken place onsite.

For decades, Buckingham Fountain has been famous for its colorful nighttime light shows. The fountain contains 820 lights in all.

An old Chicago Park District brochure said Ms. Buckingham herself worked with technicians to develop aesthetically pleasing blends of light, and "indeed, there is a mystical aura around the lighted fountain suggesting moonlight— in fairyland."

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