By Pamela S. Meyers
Back in 2018, I posted an article here about the Ferris Wheel that was debuted at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Visible above the treetops, fair visitors loved riding in one of the enclosed compartments to the top of the new-fangled amusement ride for a view of Lake Michigan to the east and the city to the north. History buffs might recall the ride was eventually taken to St. Louis for their World’s Fair in 1906. But where did it go before it arrived there?
|The Ferris Wheel at the 1893 Columbian Exposition|
Among Chicago’s visionaries who saw potential in keeping the Ferris Wheel (henceforth called “Wheel.”) in the city, was Charles T. Yerkes. You may remember a post I published on this blog a few years ago about Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. (See 10/4/2018 for that article.) Yerkes is the same man the observatory is named for.
Yerkes and other investors proposed to move the Wheel to the Lakeview neighborhood, several miles north of the Chicago loop where they planned a recreational park called Ferris Wheel Park. They envisioned a concert hall and roof garden on the same level as the Wheel’s axle. A large platform big enough to accommodate several hundred people where refreshments would be served would also be at that level. The men saw Ferris Wheel Park as the most popular outdoor amusement center in the city. Of course, the main attraction would be the Wheel, which would run continuously throughout the day.
It was already well known that the Wheel was noisy and vibrated so much that it shook the ground when it was running. Characteristics that were acceptable on the fair’s Midway, but not so much when set in the middle of a residential area. And that wasn't all. Lakeview residents feared the new park would cause new saloons to open near the Wheel, drawing a type of clientele they didn’t want.
|The Wheel as it appeared in Lakeview|
|Same street with a superimposed visual of the|
Wheel if it were there today Not the building
on the right is the same building in the
A town meeting of property owners was quickly convened to form a committee to fight the Wheel. Despite the good fight, the Wheel did come to Lakeview, and what a sight it was. Seeing the gigantic Wheel rising high above the treetops, and its passenger compartments looking like trolley cars, the intruder was hard to ignore. And, as the residents feared, other attractions soon joined the Wheel, including Vaudeville acts and something called “A Street of Cairo.”
Although the air was often filled with tension, the residents coexisted with the Wheel until 1896, when the proprietors of a restaurant in Ferris Wheel Park applied for a liquor license. That incensed the area saloonkeepers and they raised a stink.
Although I couldn’t find anything specific as to when the park began losing money, in 1902, it was put up for sale. A Coney Island company bid on it, but after they realized the high cost to move it, they retracted their bid. It appeared the Wheel was destined to be torn down and sold for junk.
|The Ferris Wheel as it appeared at the|
St. Louis fair.
New life for the Wheel came when it was put up for auction and a wrecking company bought it with plans to bring it to St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo. Once more, the Wheel entertained and thrilled fairgoers.
Then came an ominous-sounding Headline in a Chicago Newspaper: “The Wonder of Two World’s Fairs is Wrecked by Dynamite.” The Wheel had finally reached its demise. It took dynamite to take the Ferris Wheel down. According to the Lakeview website, it crumpled slowly into a pile of scrap metal. The last to drop was the 74-ton axle. The axle was buried 7-10 feet under what is now a paved main road. But people weren’t going to rest until they found the thing, and they did in 2019.
A detailed and fascinating account of the Ferris wheel’s life after the Chicago fair can be read by going to https://www.lakeviewhistoricalchronicles.org/ my main resource for this post. I encourage you to go there!
Have you ever ridden on a large Ferris Wheel or a similar ride?
All information and photos are located at: https://www.lakeviewhistoricalchronicles.org/, Researcher, and Blogger, Garry Albrecht (I ask that you go to his site to read his extensive research and view the many photos he's posted regarding Ferris Wheel Park. It's apparent he is passionate about his neighborhood's history and we must respect that. Please don't quote him without giving a link to his site.
Pam Meyers is a native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and has written numerous historical novels set in that local, She currently lives in the Chicago suburbs and loves learning about the history of that locale.
She shares her home with her two rescue cats who are named for her characters in one of her books. All of her novels can be found on Amazon and locally in stores in the Lake Geneva area.
When Pam isn't writing, she can often be found nosing around Lake Geneva for new story ideas or speaking on its history she finds so intriguing. Her next speaking event will be March 1, 2022, at the Geneva Lake Museum at 2 pm. She will be speaking on Irish Woods, an enclave of Irish immigrants who lived and worked in the Lake Geneva area during the 19th Century.