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Oscar Wilde In America

a selected resource of oscar wilde's visits to america

The Chicago Water ToweR

"A Castellated Monstrosity"

Wilde gave his first lecture in Chicago on February 13, 1882 on the subject of The Decorative Arts, a lecture in which he included observations about civic beauty and the exterior architecture of buildings.

He often included local references, where possible, and on this occasion he took the opportunity to comment on Chicago's imposing (154 feet) 1869 water tower which he called "a castellated monstrosity with pepper-boxes stuck all over it".

He was reported as follows:


The Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1882.

Chicago's Wounded Pride?

"I can't help that"

The following day Wilde was interviewed by the Tribune. The reporter put it to him that he had wounded the pride of Chicagoans by slighting the tower. Wilde was unrepentant:


The Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1882.

Not the worst

Despite these strong opinions, the Chicago Water Tower was not the worst building Wilde saw in America. That distinction he was to reserve for the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

historical note

The Chicago Water Tower
806 North Michigan Avenue, (then Lincoln Parkway) between E. Chicago Ave. and E. Pearson St., Chicago, IL

Built: 1869 (architect William W. Boyington), extant
Renovated: 1913–1916
Renovated: 1978
Current use: Chicago Office of Tourism art gallery




Victorian Pepper Boxes
Wilde's allusion to the tower's architectural ornamentation was that it was "a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it".
image: Wartski.com


Chicago Water Tower and Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, in the 1880s.
Lake Michigan visible in the distance.

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