Billy gets his kicks out of Castle rock on Route 66

Billy Connolly on the road in the US
Billy Connolly on the road in the US
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LANDMARK buildings, a famous mile and some incredibly bad weather . . . Edinburgh and Chicago have always had a lot in common.

But in a new television programme, presented by Billy Connolly, it’s revealed that a more concrete connection once blew in from one windy city to the other.

Embedded at foot level in Chicago’s Tribune tower, home to the Chicago Herald Tribune newspaper, is a very solid part of the Scottish diaspora – a chunk of Edinburgh Castle rock.

Legend goes that the rock is there because Colonel Robert R McCormick, former owner of the Tribune, wanted bits of “historically important sites” incorporated into his new building in 1925.

Just who took the rock 3700 miles from Edinburgh to Chicago is not known, but it’s one of 136 such fragments, many of which were gifted to McCormick or gathered by Tribune foreign correspondents.

In his new show Route 66, which begins on ITV1 next week, Billy Connolly asks how someone could remove a piece of Edinburgh Castle with no-one noticing.

He says: “The Chicago Herald Tribune Building is one of my favourite buildings in the world. It is a gothic skyscraper.

“There’s wee bits of different buildings in it, stuck in the body of it. The man who owned it got a piece of Ypres Cathedral from the First World War. The Germans had blown a bit off, and he took it home with him and urged all the journalists and workers to, in a well mannered way, to try to get bits of famous buildings all over the world, and bring them and implant them in his building.

“But they’ve got a bit of Edinburgh Castle, how do you do that with good manners? I don’t know. You sneak up in the night and grab yourself a chunk?”

Certainly no-one at Historic Scotland, the government body that manages the Castle, was able to answer, with a spokeswoman saying: “We don’t have any record of a stone being sent to Chicago but it is certainly fascinating to hear about it.”

The other 135 such fragments are from historic sites around the world including the Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, the Alamo in Texas, the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon, Notre Dame and the Palace of Westminster.

Not all the fragments are historical. More recently a piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Centre was added to the wall and a rock from the moon was displayed in a window in the paper’s gift shop.

The four-part series, Billy Connolly’s Route 66, starts on September 15 at 9pm on ITV1.

gina.davidson@edinburghnews.com