The construction of the Thompson Center cost $172 million. helmut jahnow, who died in a bike accident last month, began designing the 17-storey building in 1979. Located at the corner of the state and the lake, it was originally known as the State of Illinois Center, but was named after its keeper, the then-Illinois governor. James R Thompson. After Thompson left office, he contributed to Illinois’ long history of political corruption, in which his firm represented Governor George Ryan free of charge. Thompson Center serves as a train station and a state office building; It boasts retail shopping on the ground level and a food court in the basement.
The building recently went up for sale and, over time, could see demolition as state employees moved to 555 West Monroe, saving the city millions each year in real estate costs. Many Chicagoans have offered their stories and thoughts on the structure over the years. Some consider the huge internal atrium a thing of beauty, while others claim it is a typewriter-esque eyespot.
I have a fairly close relationship with the Thompson Center, which I am finally able to write about. On October 11, 2011, my Aunt Eileen jumped off 15th floor Inside the atrium and in a successful attempt to kill herself, she fell into the building’s bullseye-like basement. She was the fifth person to commit suicide since the building opened in 1985.
My aunt worked in the building during the 80’s and 90’s and was still present when people had previously jumped from different floors. He told me how hot the building got in the summer months, and how cold it got in the brutal winters. My aunt was my best friend. My sister and I couldn’t name her as kids, so we called her Ah-Lin. She was my mother’s twin and she struggled with her mental health and addiction for most of her life.
Growing up, she used to provide relief to my mother every weekend. She’d read us prayers for safety before going on drives, saw people at the grocery store she considered sinners, and told us about the powers of Alcoholics Anonymous. As a newly born Christian, it was his job to provide people with the tools to enter the kingdom of heaven. Ultimately, her faith in a kingdom shattered her will to live as she said it multiple times in a 13-page goodbye letter to my sister and me. She ended her pain and suffering by committing suicide as she would soon reach God, as she was leaving us here for a better place.
In October 2011, I returned to Chicago after working as a White House intern in Washington. I was in transition, and I had just started my final year of college in a school town. I went to my mom’s driveway on a Friday afternoon.
Our postman was new. According to my mom, the mail was coming later and later in the day since her debut a few months back. It was a warm evening and the sun was starting to turn orange as I walked down our broken asphalt driveway to cross the road at the mailbox.
Bank statement, bank statement, credit card ad, WallPack savings book, and a padded envelope from my aunt. Her beautiful workmanship was warm and easy to recognize. I gave it to my mom and continued to unpack and rearrange my belongings from my car and into one of the bedrooms of the house.
Several minutes later my mother shouted my name. “Read it!” She shouted while shaking the letter and envelope in my hand. The envelope contained a car key, the address of a U-Haul storage facility, and a small letter. The letter read something like “Dear Maureen, I have decided to go to heaven. I love you and I will miss you. Tell Danny and Meghan I love them. Take care.”
My mother’s face turned in knots. She had been on the shore for the past one year after finding her husband, my father, dead in the basement of the same house. My aunt was not answering her phone and we agreed that we needed to go to her apartment. We ran to Jefferson Park. It felt like a scene from a movie.
Each stoplight was an eternity. We drove to the three-flat apartment and Eileen’s car was nowhere to be seen. We went to the front door and were buzzed. no answer. We knocked on the door. no answer. A neighbor came downstairs and asked what the noise was. I saw my mother weeping bitterly.
Was my aunt hanging from the ceiling fan? Did he take too many pills? It felt like a bomb had gone off in the room. We were running against time.
The neighbor let us through the first floor door. I climbed the stairs to the second floor unit where my aunt lived. The door was closed. My uncle has come – my mother must have called him. Immediately after that two police officers from Chicago arrived.
As the story adapted to more characters, I wondered where and when I could see my aunt again. The police explained that they could not open the door without the proper paperwork. Moment and more upset, my mother quickly dialed my aunt on my flip phone. My aunt and I had cell phone plans together, just us.
A police officer clicked his radio. “A jumper has been reported at the Thompson Center” Mother cried.
We were taken in the back of a police SUV. My mom was sitting in front, my six-foot-four, 250-pound uncle and I squeezed in the back. As the officer pulled away from my aunt’s building, our knees pressed against the hard plastic bench.
We reached the I-90 Expressway. The weather was great, but Kennedy was a parking lot. The police officer sounds the siren and we ride on the shoulder of the highway for about 15 miles.
As the horizon grew closer, a tire burst. The front right side of the vehicle sank, but the officer moved on. As we got off the highway towards Washington, the orange color of the sky began to darken. The glossy glass-paneled Thompson Center grew closer as we passed under the L tracks.
Yellow caution tape fluttered in the wind on the east side of the building. Two soldiers from the state with wide-brimmed hats stood waiting for our arrival. By the time we got out of the back of the car, it was probably 7 in the evening.
We were coldly informed that there was a suicide. The man who jumped went to the 15th floor via a lift connecting the basement of the building to the metro station. They climbed a barrier and jumped under the atrium floor. Fifteen storeys plus another 30 or more feet below in the marble floor of the food court in the basement of the building. I asked if we can login to see the result. “No,” replied the state soldier.
They told us that it was actually my aunt who jumped. They passed with another yellow Scotch bubble mailer envelope. It read “To: Danny & Meghan O’Halloran” on the front and “My Sister Sale -” on the back, with her number neatly written down.
One of the police officers handed me a plastic bag containing my aunt’s identity card and broken blood-stained glasses. Some of his hair had dried up near Tika.
We were consoled and taken to a state building across the street. There was a report that needed to be completed, and we had to be present to do that. The state soldier was factual and to the point. He shared with us that he had to drive from Wheaton to downtown, that he hadn’t been to the city in quite some time, and how long the night lay ahead of him.
My uncle abused and the soldier retaliated by trying to “pacify” the situation. There was a threat of arrest and it turned into some weird macho shouting match. It was clear that the soldier had never faced anything like this before. Nothing made sense at this point.
It was night now, and we exited the building from the still-taped Thompson Center. Policemen were guarding the entrance.
I don’t remember whether the police or any friend of my uncle took us back to my aunt’s house. I remember going west on Kennedy, passing the still packed eastbound traffic in the city.
When we reached the apartment we bid farewell to our uncle. Me and my mother got into my car; It was almost one o’clock in the morning when I came to my driveway. My mother slipped down the stairs. His face was bright red and full of sadness. she went to sleep.
I visited the Thompson Center this January. I reached out to the building manager to ask if I could take pictures for this story. He asked if I could provide a $125 leasing fee for one hour access to the building’s atrium, basement and second floor. Looking up from the basement of the building, I felt as if I was standing on the floor of a grave. It was easy to get lost in the red-lattice ceiling and rectangular glass panels reflecting light in all directions. Standing on the polished marble, I imagined how eye-catching this intricate pattern could look from above.
I felt compelled to share this story before the building disappeared. I have avoided talking about it outside of suicide support groups for a decade. It’s still very confusing, something I’ll never understand. My Experience as a Survivor Has Changed Myself mental well-being. But after going through the collective trauma of the pandemic, I have found comfort in sharing difficulties with others.
If you think someone you know is struggling, just listen. Hear what they want to share. The trauma that comes with suicide is much more painful than a difficult conversation. These days, I try to remind myself that to savor every sip of water, I want to stop and watch the flowers bloom. Take a deep breath as the car stops at a traffic light. Look at the buildings around me and know that I am not alone. V
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