Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Ferris Wheel Day!

I do realize that today is Valentine’s Day, a day of hearts and flowers and candy. But some of us are also celebrating another holiday today—Ferris Wheel Day. George Ferris, the inventor of the “iconic” Ferris wheel was born on February 14, 1859.
The First Ferris Wheel at the 1892 World's Fair
For anyone not familiar with the facts, a brief summary:  When the U.S. was looking for something for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair that would top the Eiffel Tower that France built for their 1889 World’s Fair, George Ferris came up with the idea for a huge “observation wheel.” And I don’t use the word “huge” lightly here. The wheel section for his ride had a diameter of 250 feet and a circumference of 825 feet.
There were 36 wooden cars attached to the ride and they each held 40 riders sitting down, or up to 60 people standing.  I can’t help wondering how much observation people were able to do if they were packed like a bunch of sardines in one of these cars, but it’s amazing to think of that many people being lifted around this huge wheel at one time.  
I’m grateful to Ferris for inventing this ride because I’ve always preferred his Ferris wheel over the other big amusement ride—the roller coaster. I’m not a fan of thrill rides. I think life provides enough of a roller coaster ride; I don’t need any more thrilling ups and downs when I go out to be amused for the day. I much prefer the leisurely circular motion of the Ferris wheel, and the chance to stop and enjoy the scenery as the other cars are loaded.
However, celebrating Ferris Wheel Day poses a problem for those of us living in the Northeast. There aren’t any amusement parks open this time of year, so riding a Ferris wheel is out of the question. But I thought a nice tribute to Ferris might be to visit and post a picture of one of the historic descendants of the first Ferris wheel, the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, built in 1922. This is an interesting version of the Ferris wheel because the cars are attached in such a way that you can manipulate them to swing back and forth between the center and the edge of the wheel as you ride. (Not that I’ve ever been brave enough to do that, but no doubt those who enjoy thrill rides find it fun.)
So I grabbed my camera and my blog co-writer Stretch and headed to Coney Island.  We froze our keisters trotting along the boardwalk only to discover that all the cars had been taken off the Wonder Wheel for the winter to refurbish them.  But Stretch, ever the trouper, posed for this photo with the shell of the Wonder Wheel.
And he sagely suggested that next year we stay home and play with his replica Ferris wheel while we pig out on Valentine chocolates.


Samantha White said...

I love knowing about George Ferris and how the wheel came into being. I don't think people were crammed into the enormous cars, however, because I've read that each car could accommodate a banquet table, and that some wealthy Chicagoans rented a car for an evening and hosted their friends at dinner parties aboard the Ferris Wheel. When one thinks about it, riding that contraption, in the absence of safety standards, was a risky adventure, and it's amazing that no one (to my knowledge) was hurt. The machine was in operation for the duration of the fair. I don't know what happened to it after that . . . Thanks for letting us know that Valentine's Day is also George Ferris Day. He is to be celebrated!

Cathy Scibelli said...

Wow, it must have been amazing to go to a dinner party aboard one of these Ferris wheel cars. Thanks for that information, Samantha.

I've read that safety was a big concern when the wheel was being built, many doubted it would be strong enough to hold the cars safely, especially in the winds around Lake Michigan. But I've never read that there were any accidents or incidents of injury.

After the 1892 Fair the wheel was moved to another park in Chicago, but ticket sales dropped and it lost money. Ferris eventually sold it to a wrecking company who decided to move it to St. Louis for the 1904 Fair. Unfortunately, after that Fair closed, St. Louis destroyed the wheel and sold the steel for scrap metal.

#1Nana said...

I don't really understand the draw for a Ferris Wheel in this day and age. Perhaps airplane rides have ruined them for me?

Cathy Scibelli said...

I'm not crazy about airplane rides, so perhaps I like the Ferris Wheel because it keeps me closer to the ground. I suspect you might be a bit more adventurous than me. ;-) But I'm also a lover of anything historic, so being on something like the landmarked Wonder Wheel at Coney Island always excites me.

Linda Hoye said...

Love this post! Thanks for telling us about Mr. Ferris. I do prefer to keep my feet on terra firma though. No ferris wheel rides for me.

Cathy Scibelli said...

Well now I know who I can hang out with at the state fairs and have a good time because I'll bypass most rides, too. But it's really strange, if you tell me something is historic like the Wonder Wheel, I will grit my teeth, forget my fears and I have to go experience it. If I ever have my head x-rayed, I know there's going to be a loose screw in there someplace to explain that.

Glen said...

Great post. I too love the historic aspect of amusement park rides and also tend to stay away from the more thrilling of thrill rides. In fact, I've been on the Wonder Wheel a number of times (on the moving cars too!), but have never been able to get up the nerve to ride Coney Island's other "iconic" ride, the Cyclone!

Cathy Scibelli said...

Glen, I applaud your courage on those moving cars on the Wonder Wheel! And while I'm grateful there are still legions of fans for the historic Cyclone ride, you won't find me on it either. Not just because it's a "thrill" ride, but I can't imagine how jolting the old wooden coasters must be. I know I have a few screws loose, that ride would definitely send them flying! lol