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Buckingham Fountain to be turned on for 86th season Thursday

The Clarence Buckingham fountaGrant Park Chicago's lakefront. Thursday May 10 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

The Clarence Buckingham fountain in Grant Park on Chicago's lakefront. Thursday, May 10, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 2, 2013 2:03PM

In a sure sign that summer is on its way, the iconic Buckingham Fountain will be turned on for its 86th season Thursday morning.

Chicago Park District officials and representatives of Sears Holding Corp., March of Dimes and Kmart will host the event at 11 a.m., joined by children who benefited from March of Dimes as babies. The event will serve to kick-off fundraising for the 30th anniversary of the partnership between March of Dimes and Kmart, a statement from the Chicago Park District said.

Kate Sturges Buckingham (1858-1937) dedicated the structure in 1927 in memory of her late brother, Clarence, donating $1 million for the fountain.

Inspired by the Latona Basin at Versailles, the structure is composed of four basins clad in elaborately carved granite and pink Georgia marble. However, Buckingham Fountain is twice the size and re-circulates approximately three times more water than its French counterpart, the park district says.

During the season, the fountain shoots water from the center jet 150 feet into the air daily from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Beginning at dusk, it is accompanied by a 20-minute light and music show every hour.

For years, the fountain was manually operated by two engineers who worked 12-hour daily shifts, according to the park district. Although the evening light show was automated in 1968, the water continued to be manually operated until 1980, when the operation was fully computerized. From 1983-94, the fountain’s computer was located in Atlanta. It is now on-site with a monitoring system in northwest suburban Arlington Heights.

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