Richard Nickel was a young photography student at Illinois Institute of Technology when he first encountered Louis Sullivan’s work, and it changed his life. He began documenting Adler & Sullivan buildings in photographs; later, he fought for their preservation. When he couldn’t save them, he salvaged ornament and other material from the buildings before (and sometimes as) they were demolished.
Nickel lost his life in the Chicago Stock Exchange Building when a stairway collapsed during the building’s demolition in 1972. He had already salvaged the entire interior of the trading room, which is permanently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. The building’s entry arch stands at the corner of Columbus Drive and Monroe Street, a masterpiece exiled from its home.
On the day after Nickel’s body was discovered in the Stock Exchange rubble, the Chicago Sun-Times ran an editorial cartoon of a gravestone with the epitaph: “Richard Nickel, 1928-1972, Killed in Action rescuing Chicago architectural treasures.”
Nickel is buried not far from Louis Sullivan at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.