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Fallon, Emanuel take the Polar Plunge

"The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon walked into Lake Michigan Sunday morning in the promised suit and tie, turned toward the beach, then fall back into the water, going completely under.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ran in, then sort of laid down on his back in the slushy, 32-degree water about 10 feet from the edge of the sand on North Avenue Beach.

Speaking to the crowd just before going in, Fallon didn't exactly radiate bravado.  "If you hear a scream like a little girl's, just know that Jimmy Fallon is swimming in Lake Michigan," he said.

After the quick dip, the look on his face was "pure shock," said Mike Field, a member of the Shannon Rovers bagpipe troupe, who went in at the same time as the two celebrities. "You could almost see his eyeballs popping out."

The huge lakeside crowd braving 10 degree temperatures whooped and hollered and the two famous men emerged shortly after 10 a.m., having helped make memorable a day that organizers said would raise more than $1 million for Special Olympics Chicago. "No Diving" signs and stacks of towels lined the shores of North Avenue Beach as Fallon and Emanuel prepared to hit the water.

The celebrity-politician plunge started with a bet Emanuel made with the city's children last summer, an urban version of the public-figure dunk tank long popular at county fairs and the like. Emanuel agreed to participate in the Polar Plunge benefiting the Special Olympics if the kids, through the Chicago Public Library system, would read more than 2 million books.

They exceeded their goal by 100,000 titles, and Emanuel, after jokingly asking for a recount, committed to entering the chilly lake.

At a news conference with Jen Kramer, president of Special Olympics Chicago, and former Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije, Emanuel expressed gratitude for his support team.

"Izzy will be in the water. I'll be on his shoulders," Emanuel said.

Idonije took the plunge, as did cast members from NBC's "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD."

Kramer said this year's plunge will set a fundraising record of more than $1 million with more than 3,000 plungers. Last year, around 2,300 people braved the elements. 

Kramer attributed much of the credit for this year's spike to the famous duo and their Twitter banter.

"When Mayor Emanuel announced, we saw a little increase then," she said. "And when Fallon committed, that's when we saw the big increase."

Fallon entered the picture when, in an interview last month, he said he'd like to have Emanuel on as a Chicago guest. The mayor tweeted he would come on the show if Fallon would do the Plunge. Fallon said he wondered if he was being set up and asked if Chicago would have his back.

Many fans did demonstrate their support this morning, showing up to the shores wearing Fallon masks and handing out neckties.

 

sajohnson@tribune.com | Twitter: @StevenKJohnson

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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