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Col. McCormick, publisher and rock collector

My second time in Chicago and again I’m awed by the Tribune Tower. Not just the architecture and the scale, but those freaking rocks. Two from Philadelphia, I had to know how they got there.

According to historians of the Tribune Tower, many of the rocks have unknown provenance, including the two from Philly. 

The Tribune wasn’t founded by “Colonel” Robert McCormick, but he’s the hallmark executive starting in the 1920’s. A titanic figure in American publishing, thought to be aloof by most people, McCormick’s personal isolationism was intentional: “The minute I become friendly with a man he wants me to keep his divorce out of the paper or something.”

In his journalism and empire-building, McCormick demonstrated anything but insularity. Although he had become a part owner by 1910, he went  overseas himself to cover the Great War, and it was during that coverage that he picked up the habit of taking geological souvenirs with him, starting with fragments from Arras and Ypres in France. This origin story is included on the Tribune’s site as well.

The Tribune Tower was constructed 1923-1925. The adjacent WGN tower was constructed in the 1940’s. Thanks to a 1952 article identified by The Monthly Memo we know that by this point the stones embedded in the two buildings numbered 119. The article notes:

Many of these stones, garnered from the important corners of the world, were presented to Col. Robert R. McCormick, editor and publisher of The Tribune, and others were obtained by The Tribune’s foreign correspondents serving over the globe.

While many of the stones were gifts, others were acquired by more questionable means. Such as when the Bethlehem bureau chief helped entice an archbishop to scrape flakes off the Cave of the Nativity (!) in 1949

According to the Monthly Memo’s analysis, 38% of the stones have unknown provenance. No origin was shared for the Philadelphia bricks from Independence Hall or Christ Church. One may have been from the 43 states from which rocks were originally requested. But two bricks from Philly? Unclear how they both ended up where I saw them today.

Here are some more pictures I took today.

By the way, if you want to see pictures of all 149 stones, here’s the place.

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