Getting a piece of McKinley on pile

Chicago's Tribune Tower has rocks from every state but one

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2000

Juneau resident Michael Orelove has a new goal in life: collecting a rock from the top of Mount McKinley.

Orelove doesn't want the rock for his own eclectic collection, but for the one begun in the 1920s by Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Studding the Tribune Tower Building's sidewalk-level exterior are 138 stones and artifacts carefully selected from around the world.

The Tribune Tower already sports chunks of Egypt's Pyramid of Cheops; China's Great Wall; Davy Crockett's Alamo; Rouen's Notre Dame; the World War II battlefield at Anzio Beach, Italy; and the Custer Battlefield in Montana. So why not Alaska?

Orelove, a retired state worker, was born and raised in Chicago and lived there for 30 years, moving to Juneau in 1973. He often returns to the windy city to visit relatives and, during a September trip, he visited the Tribune on North Michigan Avenue. When he went inside to read the brochure called ``Tribune Tower: Famous Stones,'' he was appalled to learn that the collection contained fragments from every state in the nation ``except Alaska.''

``Except Alaska'' were fighting words to Orelove. He offered a gold nugget, but Allen Gramzinski, the Tower's general manager, said any Alaska sample needed to be ``official.''

Orelove settled on a 6-inch-square rock from the top of the highest peak in North America. He began writing letters to the Talkeetna Ranger Station, the superintendent of Denali National Park, the park geologist, the office of the governor, legislators and others, detailing his quest.

``I have no political agenda,'' Orelove said last week. ``It's just a fun thing.''

He pointed out that the Trib recently gathered into its fold a fist-size moon rock from the 1971 Apollo 15 mission. (That valuable rock is not embedded in the facade, but safely displayed in a window behind bulletproof glass.)

Orelove has had replies from the state Division of Trade, Juneau state Sen. Kim Elton and Alaska U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, all of whom thought he had a good idea. But he still doesn't have a rock.

He hopes now to get permission for Andres Torizzo of Boulder, Colo., who is going to do research on McKinley beginning May 10, to pick up a rock. When Torizzo descends in early June, Orelove wants to transport the rock personally to Chicago - where he hopes to have a ceremony so it can be officially accepted as ``a gift from Alaska to the citizens of Chicago and the world.''

Still, his correspondence drags on. Perhaps, Orelove suggests, the Tribune Tower has just been ``saving the best for last?''

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