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The Powder Tower Rock,
Chicago Tribune Building

I always wondered how a rock fragment from Riga’s historic Powder Tower (pulvertornis) ended up embedded in the facade of the Tribune Building. The list of rock fragments is impressive and includes the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Westminster Abbey, Tomb of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Pyramid in Giza, the Taj Mahal and many others.

This is what I came to find out:


The Chicago Tribune had a foreign correspondent in Rīga, Latvia throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Donald Day was based in Rīga and reported on northern Europe and occasionally the Soviet Union. The legendary Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick, who built the iconic Tribune Tower on Michigan Av. seems to have had a special interest in artifacts. He instructed the Tribune’s far flung corps of international correspondents to gather rock fragments for the building. In the mid 1930’s Donald Day forwarded the Powder Tower fragment to Chicago. 

Rock fragments that weren’t embedded in the facade were displayed inside Tribune Tower. Or at least that is how it worked in the early 1950’s. In 1954 Kārlis Dzirkalis the Chairman of the United Latvian Associations of Chicago approached the Tribune with a simple request: split the rock fragment in half so that it could be embedded in an outside wall as well as displayed in the collection. Dzirkalis organized the first Latvian Song Festival in Chicago in 1953. The Song Festival included a parade up Michigan Av. that passed the Tribune Tower. He was a remarkable organizer and Latvian community leader.

In January, 1955 Dr. Arnolds Spekke who was chargé d'affaires (Chief of Mission) of Latvia’s embassy in Washington, DC took part in a ceremony outside Tribune Tower marking the addition. It wasn’t actually embedded until the weather improved that Spring.   Col. McCormick was hospitalized and could not attend. Spekke presented a representative of the Tribune a plaque for McCormick. In failing health since an attack of pneumonia in April 1953 Robert McCormick died on April 1, 1955.

Six decades have passed since these events. The accomplishments of the early post-WWII Latvian settlers continue to amaze me. 

– Artis Inka

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