“Sure.” I looked up at the contraption. As far as Ferris wheels go, this one was not so daunting. This was a children’s park, after all.
My friend had invited me to go with her to the North Pole outside of Colorado Springs. Her daughter’s preschool class was having a day out together. Since my friend also had a still-in-the-stroller baby, she could use an extra hand, and I was glad she chose me.
Four-year-old Eden, it turned out, loved Ferris wheels and fearlessly stepped into line. All was well until we got aboard and started to wind upward. Eden was fine. I was the scaredy-cat.
I suddenly thought about how small and skinny she was and how easily she could slide out. About how I was responsible for someone else’s child. About how even though it was a small Ferris wheel, it was still high enough for a little girl to get hurt.
But the skinny little girl was having a great time. We waved at Mommy from the top and squealed, “Whee!” on the way down. We could see across the park to places we would go later in the day.
Around that time I got involved in writing The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, with a backdrop of the 1893 world’s fair in Chicago. The first Ferris wheel took its first spin at the fair.
At the Saturday Afternoon Club, a group of architects and engineers interested in the fair, George Ferris became known as “the man with wheels in his head.” In other words, they thought he was crazy.
It took Ferris from the spring of 1892 until mid-December to persuade the fair’s ways and means committee to give him a spot. By then, Chicago was bundled up against one of the most severe winters the city had experienced. Frost at the wheel’s construction site was three feet deep.
The fair opened on May 1, 1893, but the wheel was not ready. The crew kept building. I can imagine the curiosity mounting among fairgoers and citizens of Chicago.
Could this really work? Would it be safe? Who will be crazy brave enough to ride it?
On June 21, George Ferris made a speech pointing out he had gotten the wheels out of his head, and the wheel opened to the public.
Two thousand people could ride at one time. From the top, riders brave enough to keep their eyes open enjoyed vistas of Lake Michigan and several states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. Thousands of Thomas Edison’s new incandescent light bulbs on the wheel made a dazzling sight at night.
A little ingenuity goes a long way. Sometimes I think I don’t try hard enough to find new solutions to challenges I face. I admire George Ferris’s tenacity that the unheard of could be done and figuring out how to do it—and Eden’s example of chasing joy.