‘Need a stadium’ for funeral of popular man who died in hotel smokestack
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 13, 2012 5:22AM
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:22AM
Nick Wieme, the aspiring stand-up comedian who made the fatal mistake early Thursday morning of climbing above the iconic domed rooftop of the InterContinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue to take pictures, was a “fantastic human,” his brother said.
Nick was “awesome,” Jamie Wieme said of his sibling, who loved his family “fiercely.”
“We need a stadium to hold his funeral.”
But then Jamie Wieme asked to be left alone so he could grieve with loved ones the sudden and bizarre death of the 23-year-old Minnesota transplant who fell down a chimney at the hotel at 505 N. Michigan and died after rescue crews pulled him from the shaft.
His love for Chicago — and his passion for comedy — prompted him to find a home here on the North Side, friends and family said.
“He just loved everything about [Chicago],” said former college dorm mate Matt Lang Mayala of Fargo, N.D. “He loved just being in the city and the comedy and all the things the city had to offer, and the people and everything.”
Mayala couldn’t say, though, whether his curiosity and fondness for the city played any role in Wieme’s decision to venture out onto the rooftop, far above the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile where police said he had no permission to go.
Wieme’s Facebook page suggests he dined at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse inside the hotel Wednesday night. Later, a Chicago Fire Department official said, Wieme and his girlfriend were looking around and wanted to go upstairs.
Wieme managed to open the door to the roof simply by pulling on it, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.
“The bolt was not in,” he said.
Wieme would then climb a ladder to the top of the chimney beside the large observation deck on the InterContinental’s roof. And he’d fall 22 feet into the chimney before hitting an angle that kept him from falling further, authorities said.
There were initial reports that Wieme tried to communicate with his girlfriend after he fell.
Meanwhile, police responded to a call from hotel security shortly after 1 a.m. of someone who was on the roof, a source said. Once police realized what really happened, they contacted fire officials who began trying to pull Wieme through the side of the chimney.
Langford said they feared Wieme — who was no longer communicating with them and might have been unconscious — would be startled by the crews trying to rescue him and fall further. That would mean a fall of more than 400 feet.
“There’s no way he would have survived that fall,” Langford said.
So crews, while trying to cut Wieme out of the chimney, also built a “safety stop” or platform farther below that would have caught him if he slipped.
Fire crews finally managed to cut a hole in the smokestack about 42 stories above Michigan and free Wieme before taking him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in “severely critical condition.”
He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 5:15 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
Hotel management put out a statement Thursday but declined to answer further questions.
“The InterContinental Magnificent Mile holds the safety, comfort and well-being of our guests and employees as our top priority and concern,” said general manager Raymond Vermolen. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the guest at this difficult time. The hotel staff will continue to cooperate fully with authorities in their investigation.”
Jamie Wieme said in a family statement his brother leaves behind his parents, two brothers, a sister-in-law, a niece he loved “dearly” as well as his grandparents and countless aunts, uncles and cousins.
He grew up in Pipestone, Minn., and graduated from Minnesota State University in Moorhead as an English major in 2011.
His brother said Wieme picked up the hobby of stand-up comedy in college. Mayala also said that, while Wieme enjoyed making movies in his free time and posting them online, he really wanted to make comedy a career.
“He just kind of made the decision,” Mayala said. “He was very adamant.”
His brother said Wieme had “a good deal of success” which led him to Chicago. That’s when he switched to improvisational comedy.
“Those that watched him perform often attested that Nick had a way of unintentionally ‘stealing the show,’” Jamie Wieme said.
And though Mayala couldn’t explain why Wieme would be up on the roof of the InterContinental, he said Wieme was a free spirit.
“He’s a very adventurous person,” Mayala said. “And he liked to explore and do things like that.”
The only thing that topped Wieme’s talents, his family said, is the love and loyalty he showed his family and friends. They called him a family man and “a phenomenal friend.”
“When it came to people,” they said, “Nick’s as good as they come.”