Q. I read that 18 men died during the building of the Empire State Building in New York City. Can you tell me how many died building the Eiffel Tower in Paris?
— Robert Rainbolt, of Fairview Heights
A. Fortunately, the City of Light had its brightness dimmed only once to remember a worker who died during construction of that iconic landmark.
And he wasn’t even on the job at the time.
As the story goes, it was a Sunday when Angelo Scagliotti decided to give his girlfriend a private tour just a few days before the tower opened to the public in the spring of 1889. But in showing off his work, the Italian worker apparently lost his footing somewhere on the first level and fell to his death.
Otherwise, there were no fatalities — unless you count what some feared would be irreparable damage to the Parisian skyline. When construction began on the Champs de Mars, a group of 300 artists, sculptors, writers and architects sent a petition to the commissioner of the Paris Exposition. They begged him to stop construction of the “ridiculous tower” that they said would dominate Paris like a “gigantic black smokestack.”
Occasionally even artists have no vision, I suppose.
That notwithstanding, the project was completed with no major snags as workers put together the 18,000 iron pieces weighing 7,300 tons with 2.5 million rivets in just over two years. At 1,063 feet (with antenna), it would be the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Chrysler Building opened in New York in 1930. It has been repainted 18 times with each coat reportedly requiring 60 tons of paint.
Now, of course, it is the most visited paid monument in the world with some 7 million people riding up in its elevators every year for a breathtaking view of the French capital. In 2010, it honored its 250 millionth visitor.
One final interesting note for science geeks like me: Like most supertall structures, the tower was built to sway a bit in the wind, but the sun is said to affect it even more. As the sun-facing side of the tower heats up, the top moves as much as 7 inches away from the sun — and the tower slowly grows about 6 inches.
By the way, I don’t know where you read that 18 people died building the Empire State Building, but your source apparently was exaggerating. Despite rumors at the time of hundreds of fatalities, official records show only five deaths: One worker was struck by a truck, a second fell down an elevator shaft, a third was hit by a hoist, a fourth was in a blast area and a fifth fell off a scaffold.
Ironically, it reportedly was the exact same number of workers killed during the construction of the Sears/Willis Tower in Chicago. On April 11, 1973, a fire started around the 42nd floor of the building, sending flames through the shaft and killing four workers. Three days later, 28-year-old Jack De Klerk fell 35 feet after an iron cable knocked him off a platform on the 109th floor. He died before hitting the ground, because he crashed into steel beams stored on the floors below.
On the other hand, despite far more primitive conditions, no workers reportedly were killed during the carving of Mount Rushmore, although some are thought to have died later of silicosis from breathing in the granite dust. And although an actuarial firm predicted 13 deaths, there also were no fatalities during work on the Gateway Arch.
But even when you put all of these together, they’re just a drop in the bucket compared to the massive death toll suffered during the construction of the Panama Canal. During the U.S. construction period from 1904 to 1914, hospital records show 5,609 people died of disease and accidents, of which about 4,500 were West Indians and 350 were white Americans. Some speculate that perhaps 22,000 had died while the French were attempting to build a canal in the late 1800s.
Clothes call: In a recent answer, I suggested the Pregnancy Care Center in Belleville when a Girl Scout leader asked where she could donate baby-care items her troop was collecting. I was not aware that the center also is in need of items for older children, too.
“(It was about) 20 years ago someone came in with a child about 3 years old without shoes or a coat in inclement weather,” Gloria Schwartz, the center’s secretary, tells me. “It was at that time we decided to collect and give clothing to children ages 2 to 5. We seem to get a lot of things for children 2 and under but not as much for ages 3, 4, and 5.”
So, if you have gently used clothing for those older age groups — especially boys — the center would appreciate hearing from you at 233-2273 or 301 W. Lincoln St., Building D, Suite 105.
Crowning touch: Renowned Belleville architect Charles King will be featured on the Nine Network’s “Arts America” program at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday on KETC-TV, Channel 9. Named one of the top 100 architects in the country in 1991, King designed three dozen public and commercial projects and an estimated 100 custom-designed residences during his time in Belleville from 1949 to 1961.
For what movie star did Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall name their daughter — and why?
Answer to Thursday’s trivia: In the summer of 1776, Jose Joaquin Moraga was ordered to build a Spanish mission and fort on the California coast. Between the two, he built housing for the workers, a settlement that became known as Yerba Buena (“good herb”) for the aromatic herb (Micromeria douglasii) that grew abundantly in the area. Seventy years later, the U.S. Navy raised the American flag over the town plaza after winning the Battle of Yerba Buena. Then, on Jan. 30, 1847, Navy Lt. Washington Alton Bartlett issued a proclamation that changed the name Yerba Buena to San Francisco. Good thing, too. Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in Yerba Buena” just wouldn’t have the same ring to it.