In my twenties I had three different last names. One maiden name and two different married names, to be exact. Changing my name when I married wasn’t mandatory, but doing so made it easier to cash a check or use a charge card: women weren’t able to obtain credit cards separate from their husbands until the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. I had to show an I.D. to do either.
Neither married name lasted long enough for anyone to notice, including me. The surnames were easy to change and change back. Every once in a while one of the defunct names shows up in a credit report.
Just as my own name change had little effect on me, neither does changing landmark names like the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower. I and everyone I know still calls it the Sears Tower. We all have our particular reasons, from memorable tours of the ninety-ninth floor observation deck to family conversations about our hometown having the tallest building in the world, which it was for twenty-five years.
Driving back into Chicago after a sixteen year hiatus I had my driver’s license with my newly-reclaimed maiden name tucked close in a jeans pocket. My nine-year old son spotted the Sears Tower from miles away and breathed, “We’re home.” A few years later, we rode our bikes down Franklin Street to watch helicopters maneuver TV towers in place on the 110th story rooftop. Whenever out-of-towners visited us we couldn’t wait to take them to the top of the Sears Tower. Now my son shows it off to his own children, their friends and their own out-of-town guests.
People often ask why it’s called the Sears Tower since no tools or washing machines are sold inside. I shrug my shoulders. The well-reported troubles of the Sears Tower are too exhausting to recount. Even as the doors opened in 1973, Sears Roebuck & Co., had slipped in its ranking as the largest retailer in the world. Lawsuits beset the half-built tower trying to limit its height so it wouldn’t block television signals. The news has continually reported the building’s bankruptcies, miles of vacancies and its lost status as the world’s tallest building.
On September 11, 2001 terrorists flew planes into New York’s World Trade Center, and the Sears Tower instantly became Chicago’s “ground zero”. I worked a few blocks away and when we evacuated that morning, I mindlessly shuffled along Jackson Street past workers furiously cordoning off a wide swath around it. For years afterward, few went inside the building fearing it would get attacked. Scores of business offices moved out leaving whole floors deserted.
In May, 2020, my TV blanked out after the Chicago River rose and flooded three Sears Tower sub basements, knocking out electricity to those TV towers. I’m rarely in the vicinity these days, but it appears everyday within my roving city view, anchoring my heart, that Sears Tower.