New coin traditions for Chicago, inspired by the Trevi Fountain

Adam and I spent the last leg of our Italian adventure in the history-filled city of Rome, where we visited many of the world-famous sites. One of those sites was the Trevi Fountain.

Selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain
Selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain

“Legend has it,” Adam read to me from his phone via a site online, “You will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain. Approximately €2,000 is thrown into the Trevi Fountain each week and the coins are collected at night, and used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s poor population.”

Because of the vast amount of tourists (apparently this Trevi Fountain is not a well-kept secret), we weren’t able to get close to the water to throw in a coin, but I can definitely understand why so many people would and why the city would collect so much money from these superstitious tourists.

Then Adam quoted from Travel and Leisure’s website: “Interestingly, Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest in the world, only makes about $200 a year.” Only $200 per year, compared to Rome’s €2,000 per week? Travel and Leisure linked to an old Chicago Tribune article, which said:

“‘With wishing, there’s no instant reward . . . so people throw more money into fountains that give other feedback,’ said Mark Fuller, CEO of WET Design, a California-based company that created the fountains at Navy Pier and the new McCormick Place. ‘Whether it’s the splash of the coin, or seeing a pile of glimmering coins on the bottom, or trying to hit a target . . . there’s a sense of actualization.’

“Thus Buckingham Fountain, with burbling jets that obscure the bottom and guardrails keeping pedestrians 10 to 20 feet away, actively discourages passersby from tossing in a coin. ‘You have no sense of what you hit or where it went,’ said Fuller. ‘And you can’t see the money that other people have put in.'”

There may be some truth to this — you can’t see your coins, you can’t see all the other coins, so why bother?

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago

But I have a different theory. The Trevi Fountain has a FUN tradition with the coins. You toss a coin, and you’ll come back to Rome. Of course, tradition doesn’t say this, but I’m sure this return trip is on an all-expenses-paid luxury cruise ship, so you might as well try to toss in a coin. And it’s like a game. How’s my aim? I’ll turn around, throw the coin over my shoulder, and then hope to hear a splash … did I make it? In a country without Fantasy Football, this is probably the most excitement many tourists participate in.

The Buckingham Fountain, on the other hand, has no such tradition. Presumably people recognize that any coins you throw into the fountain will somehow make it back to former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s hair salon fund.

So instead, I’d like to propose some new Buckingham Fountain coin traditions:

  • Toss a coin into the fountain and you’ll meet your true love on your next trip to Chicago.
  • Throw a penny into the fountain using your right hand, think of your favorite Abraham Lincoln quote, and you will grow taller and more honest.
  • Order deep dish pizza from your favorite restaurant, pay in cash, keep the change, throw the change into the fountain the way a pizza maker would, and legend says that you’ll never see any more deep dish pizza calories in your hips ever again.
  • This fountain accepts bills, too! Throw a $10 bill into the fountain, but first, kiss Alexander Hamilton’s face, and you’ll automatically be entered into a lottery to get tickets to “Hamilton” on Broadway in Chicago.
  • Toss a big check for the Democratic Party into the fountain and Donald Trump will not be elected.

By the time this blog post is released to the internet, Adam and I will be en route back to Chicago. And next time I’m downtown, I’ll be sure to drop a coin into Buckingham Fountain and see what crazy luck comes my way.


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