Years before moving to Chicago I came through town with my college roommate, and we looked up a couple of friends who had just started their careers here. One edited a banking magazine; the other was a reporter with the Tribune. They wanted us to see the city at night. We walked along Wacker Drive between Dearborn and Michigan Avenue, admiring the cluster of buildings that soared above the river—Marina City, the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower—and then they said they wanted to show us something special.

We crossed the river, crossed Michigan Avenue, and Pat and Sherry led us into the Byzantine weirdness of the Sheraton hotel just north of the Tribune. (It’s now the Hotel InterContinental.) We took a hotel elevator as far it would go; then there was a staircase, or was it a second elevator? When Pat and Sherry finally led us outside, we were standing on a narrow terrace just under the onion dome on the roof of the Sheraton. The peaks of other towers surrounded us; the night sky glowed with a thousand lights. We were not looking down on Chicago—we were nestled in its crown. The world’s sights have stirred me many times since, but none ever made me feel more privileged.

When I came to Chicago to stay I tried to go back out on that terrace but the door that led to it was locked. I assumed the roof was sealed off for good. Apparently I was wrong. The door opened Wednesday night for Nicholas Wieme, and when he reached the roof he spotted something I hadn’t — a ladder leading to the top of the smokestack. If the view from the terrace was spectacular, can you imagine what it would be from that precarious perch, another 20 or so feet in the sky? Of course he wanted to find out.