‘A symbol of our city roaring back to life’: Buckingham Fountain switch-on marks the start of traditional Chicago summer

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CHICAGO — People masked and unmasked gathered around the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park on Saturday afternoon.

For the first time since the world has come to known COVID-19, water leaped from the mouths of four pairs of bronze sea horses, and the people clapped and danced as Mayor Lori Lightfoot exchanged fist bumps in front of the ceremonious display. The fountain’s first official switch-on marked not only the start of summer, but also the restart of tradition and normalcy.

“Because of the sacrifice of so many Chicagoans, we are but once again safely gathered and will literally flip the switch on our iconic summer Chicago,” Lightfoot said before the fountain was turned on. “When Buckingham Fountain roars back to life, just know it is also a symbol of our city roaring back to life.”

The “Switch on Summer” event, which was put on hold last year due to the pandemic, was organized by the Park District and Commonwealth Edison.

Starting after 2 p.m., the livestreamed event on ComEd’s Facebook page began with remarks from WGN chief meteorologist Tom Skilling, who acted as an emcee. He introduced not only Lightfoot but also Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly, ComEd CEO Joe Dominguez and Dominique Lalrinzuala, the ComEd sweepstakes winner who hit the switch.

Lightfoot spoke about how there are “less and less” coronavirus cases as “more and more” people are getting vaccinated, and she encouraged those who have not been vaccinated yet to do so. She also promoted the city’s new concert series for those who have been fully vaccinated.

Lalrinzuala, of Orland Park, wore a T-shirt that showed a Black woman in front of a rainbow background giving the Rosie the Riveter pose showing off a Band-Aid and the word “vaccinated” across her arm as she stepped onto the stage. Lalrinzuala, who is fully vaccinated with Pfizer, said she had been sitting on the shirt for a while and decided it was the perfect day to wear it.

“The pandemic, of course, was something that was tragic,” she said. “But we made it through, and I’m just happy to be one of the ones who did see it through. ... Definitely overwhelming feelings about just being able to be at something like this.”

In the crowd, Laurie Pincus came from Iowa to visit Chicago for her 70th birthday. She heard on the news Saturday morning that the fountain was turning on, and she said her great-great-grandfather was first cousins with Kate Buckingham, who donated the fountain in 1927 in memory of her brother.

“I just knew we had to be here,” Pincus said. “We haven’t been here for a year and a half. ... A beautiful day and a beautiful moment in time.”

Nearby, 55-year-old Lynette Boyd-Peoples sat in a chair facing the fountain as her 16-year-old daughter Faith Boyd and 3-year-old grandson — Faith’s nephew — Natwan “NJ” Nash waved around bubble wands.

“We’ve been cooped up in the house all last year,” Boyd-Peoples said. “And I said it would be a wonderful event to take my grandson. ... Hopefully, he’ll remember it, but I’ll keep bringing him back.”

Boyd-Peoples said “2020 was horrible.” She lost her brother and aunt due to health reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, and she also had back surgery, which was difficult because she couldn’t have anyone at the hospital with her due to the coronavirus-related restrictions. She is on disability leave from her job at Walmart but is looking forward to going back. She received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine Monday, and “now, I’m feeling fantastic, and I’m just glad to be back out in society again.”

“It’s been kind of hard, but with the help of God, I’m going to be OK. I know he’s not going to put no more on me than I can bear,” she said. “So I just take one day at a time and keep reaching for the stars and stay positive with everything that’s going on. I tell my kids just stay positive. Everything is going to get back to normal soon. This will bypass.”

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