November 11, 2012

Which Ferris wheels are the fairest?


---- — I recently scanned an Internet social-network message from a person who was planning a trip to ride on “a fairest wheel” located at her destination city.

It put me in mind of a column I wrote years back on how we sometimes mishear things. I mentioned The Lord’s Prayer and cited the way I recited it for years in my father’s church: “Our Father, which art in heaven, Harold be thy name.”

Perhaps your favorite childhood memories include your first ride on a Ferris wheel. Our poor family couldn’t afford such luxuries before I was 13. Perhaps because of our “fundamental” religious faith, it was considered too decadent. After we became Methodists (a far more “worldly” group), things changed. My first Ferris wheel memories were made in Massena when the carnival came to town. Later, I saved money to attend what we called the “Malone Fair.” At the time, those Ferris wheels seemed huge. In retrospect, they were tiny compared to the behemoths of today.

Kaye and I are blessed. Our wonderful family got together last Christmas and gifted us with a vacation in Myrtle Beach last month. We loved walking on the beach for miles every day. We enjoyed the boardwalk and a giant new ride called the Sky Wheel. At 187 feet with its enclosed, climate-controlled capsules, it was the biggest such ride I had ever seen. When it opened last year, it was the tallest east of the Mississippi and second in North America after the Texas Star, which is 221 feet. 

It put me in mind of what is called “the largest non-production tire scale model ever built,” called the Uniroyal Giant Tire. It was unveiled at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. As I hopped aboard, I snapped photos and thought it must be the biggest Ferris wheel ever. Wrong. It’s just 80 feet high and now resides in Allen Park, Mich.

Staten Island recently suffered terrible devastation at the hands of Sandy. I couldn’t help but wonder how recovery would affect the proposed 625-foot, $230 million Ferris wheel to be known as the New York Wheel. If completed, it will overlook the recently renovated Statue of Liberty and the iconic Manhattan skyline. Can you imagine 1,440 passengers spinning around at the same time? The original timetable called for an opening in 2015, but nobody has predicted if that deadline is possible now.

The world’s present tallest is the Singapore Flyer at 541 feet. The Star of Nanchang in China is 525 feet. The so-called London Eye is 443 feet. Compare those to the original one designed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. It was gigantic for its time, soaring to 264 feet.

Many huge Ferris wheels have been designed, but plans have been scrapped for one reason or another. Each was predicted to be the world’s tallest. A couple future wheels have been announced for Las Vegas. One, scheduled to open at the end of 2015, is called the High Roller and is planned for 550 feet. Another — the Skyvue Las Vegas Super Wheel — will be close to 500 feet and was scheduled to open late next year, but construction has slowed to a crawl several times.

The tallest of all would be Russia’s Moscow View, planned for 722 feet. That construction is said to have stopped with no prediction for completion. I have also read of many more in the 600- to 700-foot range that have yet to be finished.

Ferris wheels were alternatively called “observation wheels,” and similar rides date back to the 17th century. A year before the first Ferris wheel, a man named William Somers put 50-foot wooden “roundabout” wheels at Coney Island, Atlantic City and Asbury Park. He and Ferris got into a heated patent infringement battle, but it was tossed out of court because of design differences.

That’s probably more information than you wanted or needed, but I hope your last ride on a wheel was the “fairest” of them all.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at