DOWNTOWN — It isn't really springtime until Buckingham Fountain comes to life, and on Thursday the Grant Park fixture made it official.
The fountain will run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily into early fall, with an hourly display starting at 9 a.m. that shoots water from the center jet 150 feet into the air. After dusk, the jet stream is joined by a 20-minute light and music show, with the last display kicking off at 10:35 p.m. daily.
But between the shut-off of the fountain in the fall and its reawakening Thursday, Chicago Park District crews went through the yearly winterization process, which includes removing the decorative spray heads, cleaning fixtures and scooping out the animal carcasses.
That's right — animal carcasses.
The fountain is the final resting place for a handful of urban critters each year when it's shut off for the winter, many of whom crawl into the fountain's intricate pipe system and get stuck, Dan Dust, a Chicago Park District foreman and engineer, said in October.
Each spring, crews expect to clean out "seagull and rabbit remains" in the pipes, Dust said. One year, crews found a live fox inside who "had made it his home for the winter," Dust said.
Prepping the fountain also means giving it a good cleaning. For that, the Park District has help.
"They have the Fire Department come hose down all the muck each year," said Mark Sinodinos, 26, who works with the Park District.
On Thursday, the fountain sprang to life just after 11 a.m. for its 86th season, looking clean, bright and carcass-free.
As part of a partnership with the March of Dimes pediatric support foundation and its corporate partner, Kmart, the Kernan family from Chicago was chosen to throw a symbolic red switch that turned the fountain on.
Kayla Kernan, 8, was born 15 weeks premature with breathing problems. Her life was saved using surfactant therapy, a type of treatment developed by the March of Dimes.