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Charly Haley, Published December 13 2012

'It really seemed like this was just the beginning': MSUM grad dies in fall from Chicago hotel

With video at end of story


CHICAGO – A Minnesota State University Moorhead alumnus known for his kindness, creativity and humor died Thursday while trying to take a photo on a smokestack atop a 42-story luxury hotel in downtown Chicago.

Nicholas Wieme, 23, had climbed a ladder onto the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue and fell 22 feet down the smokestack while attempting to take a photo, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Police said the fire department responded to the scene at around 1:10 a.m. They removed Wieme from the smokestack and he was later pronounced dead about 5 a.m. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

He was with an acquaintance who was unharmed, police said.

Wieme, originally from Pipestone, Minn., graduated from MSUM in December 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in English, said David Wahlberg, director of communications and marketing.

Emergency crews took hours to remove Wieme from the smokestack, where he was wedged inside a 5-foot-wide space just a few feet above where the chute angled and dropped 42 floors, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Rescuers cut into the walls of the steel chimney and used wood boards to block him from falling any farther, eventually pulling him from the smokestack, the Tribune reported. He was unconscious when firefighters arrived, the Tribune reported.

Wieme and his girlfriend had dined on Michigan Avenue on Wednesday night and decided to explore the hotel when they took the elevator to the roof, the Tribune reported.

Wieme had lived on the north side of Chicago. MSUM theater alumna Kimberly Miller, a friend of Wieme’s, said he moved there in January 2011 to pursue a career as a comedian.

Those who knew Wieme while he attended MSUM described him as a good friend who was talented, optimistic and had an infectious sense of humor.

Miller knew Wieme through MSUM’s sketch comedy troupe, which they participated in together for about a year and a half.

“We were all trying to be the funniest person in the room, but Nick really was,” she said.

Wieme was like a brother to everyone in the comedy troupe, Miller said.

Wieme performed comedy around Fargo-Moorhead, and was performing in Chicago and taking comedy classes, Miller said.

In addition to being known for his comedy, Wieme was also known in Fargo-Moorhead as a writer and filmmaker.

MSUM senior film student Adam Brant worked with Wieme on several projects.

“He’d just like run and gun with the camera and shoot things for fun,” Brant said. “He was more concerned about the feelings that film gives you rather than the overall process.”

Brant was surprised when he heard Wieme died.

“It sucks. I was just shocked,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone this close die.”

But because of the nature of Wieme’s filmmaking, when Brant heard how Wieme died, it didn’t completely surprise him.

“When I heard he fell off of something high, I was like, ‘Nick was trying to get a cool shot or something,’ ” Brant said.

Brant said Wieme loved writing, which is part of the reason he switched to an English major after starting out in MSUM’s film program.

“Nick was one of the most vibrant, hilarious people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson, an MSUM film professor who had Wieme in class.

“He was true to himself all the time,” Kristjansson-Nelson said. “He did so many different things, and I think comedy was central to his core being. He liked to make people laugh.”

Wieme is also remembered as a good friend.

“He was legitimately one of the nicest people ever,” Brant said.

Wieme’s friends were “so proud” of him moving to Chicago to pursue comedy, Miller said.

“It really seemed like this was just the beginning for him,” she said.

Miller said Wieme’s 24th birthday is next month.

Funeral preparations are being made at Hartquist Funeral Chapel in Pipestone.