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The Leaning Tower of Niles was built as a grand homage to the original in Pisa—and to store water for swimming pools.

Leaning Tower of Niles

Leaning Tower of Niles

Ken Lund

There is just one replica in the entire world of the great icon of Italian culture known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa—obviously not counting the little plastic souvenir versions for sale in Pisan gift shops. And it's in Niles, across the street from the two great icons of American culture known as Target and Costco!

But the Leaning Tower of Niles does not exist simply to honor multiculturalism. Robert A. Ilg built it in 1933 to honor the spirit of scientific inquiry. (Galileo, if you recall, allegedly dropped two different-sized cannonballs off the top of the original to prove that they would fall at the same speed, regardless of mass.) It also had a practical purpose: to store water for three swimming pools in a nearby county park. But now the pools are gone and the park is a YMCA.

Until the early 90s, visitors could climb to the top of the Leaning Tower of Niles and admire the view. There was even a gift shop on the first floor. But eventually the cost of insurance got to be too high, says Michael Crisci of the Niles Historical Society. (And I can only imagine how much higher that insurance would have climbed had someone ever decided to throw himself off the top.)

Now the tower has become the great icon of Niles. Its image graces the village's website, and in 2010 cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufman carved a model in cheddar for the local Meijer supermarket. Alas, the cheese tower no longer exists; it was chopped up and donated to a food pantry.

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