LINCOLN PARK — A frozen North Avenue Beach was packed to the brim with Polar Plungers, but 10-year-old Lucas Stowe may have gotten the most coveted thing of all: an autograph from his hero, Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon emerged with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a heavy winter coat to heavy applause Sunday morning as he prepared to jump into a clearing in the frozen Lake Michigan. He emerged from the lake in an expression resembling terror, sporting an icy hairdo and a suit and tie worthy of a "Tonight Show" appearance.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Fallon have developed quite a friendship in recent days. When the "Tonight Show" host invited Emanuel to appear on his show, the mayor countered with an offer to dip in the lake for Sunday's Special Olympics Chicago Polar Plunge.
Lucas, along with more than 3,000 other brave souls - a record number - and hundreds of spectators dressed in little more than neckties in support of Fallon, came to collect on that challenge.
Though Fallon made a beeline for warmth after the jump, Lucas, who will be performing in an elementary school talent show using a custom Fallon gag in May, was able to snag an autograph as the "Tonight Show" host's SUV made the last turn onto Lake Shore Drive.
Lucas' father, Andy Stowe, said the two saw their chance and took it; the vehicle was feet from the onramp when he held his son up and told Fallon that Lucas is exactly the sort of young fan who stays up to watch his idol on the Tonight Show, referencing Fallon's inaugural monolog.
"Just to think there's going to be a kid out there staying up to watch me; it just means a lot to me and I hope I do well," Fallon said, seeming to tear up on Feb. 17.
Lucas will be doing his own version of "Thank You Notes," a popular Fallon skit, for his Longfellow Elementary School talent show. And he was all smiles, repeating Fallon's parting words as he high-fived his dad.
"He said, 'Hey buddy,' hope to see you on the show one day!"
Before they jumped in Lake Michigan, Emanuel signaled his intention to introduce a resolution renaming the city after Fallon. He also presented the funnyman with a pink onesie from the Billy Goat Tavern for his baby daughter.
Fallon came draped in an over-large winter coat but was quickly compelled to strip down to his Tonight Show suit when chants of "take that coat off!" reverberated from the gathered crowd.
"What is wrong with you people?" a smiling Fallon asked the crowd.
"Look at us, look at we've done," he added in a nod to the Chicago Special Olympics, which received a record number of participants, at about 3,000, as well as a record peak in donations. "If you hear the screams of a little girl, just know that Jimmy Fallon is swimming in Lake Michigan."
The #SwimmyFallon challenge began soon after the mayor promised schoolchildren he'd jump in the lake if they read 2 million books over the summer. They read 2.1 million.
"Never bet against the children of the City of Chicago," he said Friday.
After Rahm and Fallon emerged from the Lake, the rest of the city got their chance to show their chance to plunge for a good cause.
Nick Schlesinger, 38, was one of the first along with seven others who fit into a giant green dragon costume. He had been talking about the plunge into chilly waters since the warm sun beat down on him on the same beach months earlier.
"I actually talk about coming to the beach specifically for the Polar Plunge," said Schlesinger with a laugh. "I like to think of the water as an Elixir to life, my own fountain of youth."
Knowing Schlesinger's fascination with jumping into the freezing lake, his friends weren't a bit surprised when he disappeared after the original dip.
"I just snuck back in for a second time," Schlesinger said. " It might be selfish that I enjoy it too but, it's for a good cause.