People on the 20th floor were the first to see them.
"Oh my goodness," declared Colleen Forrester, 29, a nurse dressed in green scrubs, who pointed to the windows. Other nurses rushed to look and laugh.
Soon, parents and nurses were leading kids out of their rooms. The children were small and frail-looking. Most were undergoing treatment for cancer and other disorders. But on this April morning, they enjoyed some precious moments of distraction.
The window washers at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago were dressed as superheroes. All morning, Captain America, Batman and Spider-Man swung on ropes outside the windows -- waving to the kids and posing for pictures -- in what is fast becoming a semiannual tradition there.
"Wow. They are so high up," said wide-eyed 8-year-old Mason Turngren, who has been in and out of the hospital for the past four years. Exhausted from a battery of tests, he had to be coaxed to the window, but when he got there he was transfixed. Mason waved to the heroes and put his hand on the glass to exchange a high-five with Captain America.
That moment meant a lot to Mason's mom, Dusty Turngren, 42. "Just to see a smile on his face ...!" she said.
The hospital had offered other events in recent days, including a visit from a therapy dog, but none had aroused Mason's interest. Then he heard Spider-Man was outside.
"Superheroes are his favorite," said his mother, "especially Spider-Man." Mason spent half an hour at the windows.
The superhero window washers made their first appearance at Lurie last year, after Phil Kujawa, 46, the foreman of the crew, saw a news report about a similar event in another city. He mentioned the idea to his bosses at Chicago-based Corporate Cleaning and got the green light.
Then Kujawa dealt with the little issue of persuading his crew to don the capes and tights. "At first, they were like, 'I am not wearing that,' " Kujawa recalled. But he emphasized how much it would mean to the kids, and eventually won them over.
Each window washer, Kujawa said, was selected for his experience and skill. What's more, each man had to look herolike.
Roberto Duran, 32, with his chiseled jaw and clean-cut good looks, would make a perfect Captain America, his bosses thought. Gerardo Vaca, 36, with a short, athletic build, seemed more a Spider-Man type. Pedro Castro, 45, with a bushy mustache, was chosen to become Batman "as a little bit of a joke," said Kujawa. "We wanted to see what he would look like in a costume."
Now the crew likes the idea of visiting the hospital in the superhero costumes. "They smile and wave their hands," Vaca said of the kids. "They are so happy. I like (dressing up) because I like to see their happy faces."
Evelina London Children's Hospital in England might have been the first to ask its window washers to don tights and capes, according to reports. After photos of the superhero window washers hit the Internet a few years ago, the idea spread to children's hospitals around the world.
Doctors at Lurie believe the happiness generated by Superhero Day can help children heal. "There is power in laughter and joy and excitement," said Dr. Stewart Goldman, a neuro-oncologist at Lurie. "I can't quote you a trial, but I know in my heart that it helps."