HUNTING SWEETIE ROSE


The Argus-Observer was the only Chicago newspaper that dared run the pictures of the clown going off the roof, screaming.

It happened at the start of the evening scramble, that time when floors and floors of appropriate business attires are let out to charge Union Station for trains southwest to Willow Springs, west to Brookfield , or north to Glenview , Deerfield , and points richer beyond.

Waves of hurrying heads turned up to laugh at the daredevil clown -- red nosed, orange-haired, dressed in huge green dots -- prancing antic atop the old Rettinger Hardware Supply building. Dozens paused longer, to snap a cell phone picture, new proof of their wacky, rush hour lives.

Until 4:41, when it went wrong.

The first of the Argus-Observer photos showed the daredevil clown with his left hand outstretched, waving at the commuters five stories below. His right hand was raised high, clutching a bouquet of red, blue, and yellow balloons. It would have been a happy summertime photo, a clown cavorting high against the blue of a summertime sky.

Except for the rope.

It was supposed to be taut behind him, tethering him as he leaned out to thrill the crowd.

It wasn't. It had started to fall, a limp, worthless tail. Anchoring nothing.

The middle picture, shot just a second later, captured the instant the clown pitched out past the point of return. He'd started to twist, to look back at the roof. His big red and white clown-mouth still smiled, because it was painted on that way. But now there was a dark hole in the middle of it, the start of a scream.

The last photograph showed him plummeting, upside down, arms out, grabbing at the air. The balloons had escaped his pink glove. Only the rope, loose and useless, was following him down.

The Argus-Observer ran no more of the photos. Not even that raunchiest of scandal sheets had the stomach to print the ones of him lying crushed and leaking on the sidewalk.

And not even they thought to call it murder.