CHICAGO — A man and woman watched as workers in gloves wiped and buffed The Bean clean of graffiti -- silvery white letters spray-painted on two sides of the iconic stainless steel sculpture in Millennium Park.
"It's been vandalized," the man whispered to the woman.
"That's too bad," she said.
Moments later, another man walked up to one of the workers. "Thank you," he said. "That's the way to do it."
The graffiti was gone by 10:30 a.m., less than 12 hours after police say seven people vandalized The Bean as well as the cancer survivor wall in Maggie Daley park nearby. Charges were pending against them.
Police were called to the park shortly before midnight Monday and found graffiti on the north and south sides of the sculpture, named by its creator as Cloud Gate but more commonly known to Chicagoans as The Bean because of its shape.
On the street-level entrance to the park, two benches also bore graffiti that said "35th" in the same shade of paint. Police later found that the cancer survivor wall in Maggie Daley Park had been vandalized as well.
By Tuesday morning, the sun high in the sky, two workers and a supervisor went about cleaning up the graffiti. Most of it had been wiped off by 9:30 a.m. and the workers then polished the sculpture, occasionally catching a glimpse of their reflection. They then went to the other side, where "35th Crew" had been scrawled.
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The Bean was created by artist Anish Kapoor and was installed in Millennium Park in 2006. It is composed of 168 highly polished stainless steel plates and has become one of the city's top tourist draws.
Stevie Dread, 56, stopped by after someone told him about the incident via Snapchat. "I just find it an insult that people have to be so selfish," he said. "I'm so over graffiti ... it's just so dumb. This is a beautiful piece of art.
"This thing draws zillions of people all day, all year," Dread said. "It's just a stain on the city."
The vandalism also drew the official wrath of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
"I was pretty pissed off," Lightfoot told reporters. "Look, there are some things that should be sacred. Millennium Park and The Bean have been an important, iconic part of who we are as Chicago from the time that park opened and The Bean was first opened up as an icon in our city. It is unbelievably unacceptable for people to be defacing something like that."
Asked why downtown graffiti is less acceptable than rampant gang graffiti in neighborhoods like Woodlawn, where she appeared Tuesday morning for a vacant lot beautification program, Lightfoot said it is not.
"It's unacceptable wherever it is," she said. "But clearly they chose this area to make a big statement. But it's not acceptable anywhere. It's not acceptable anywhere in the city. In my neighborhood, Logan Square, we have gang graffiti. I had my garage tagged. It's not acceptable. People should have a decent quality of life all over the city."
This is not the first time The Bean has been vandalized. In 2009, someone scratched graffiti on its northeast side.