The Ferris Wheel: (what does that have to do with music?)

Ferris Wheels are a staple of every amusement park that ever set up for a week in a parking lot, and usually among the tamest rides. They resemble the original Ferris Wheel, the landmark attraction of the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago 1893), in name only.

At a height of 264 feet, the Ferris Wheel towered over the rest of the fair. The 45-foot-long axle alone weighed 71 tons. No one had ever built or seen anything remotely similar. A popular and financially successful ride, it must have nonetheless invited awe and dread.

In one way, however, the Ferris Wheel resembled every other major attraction of the fair: a musical performance, in this case by the Iowa State Band. The description of the opening ceremony by the Chicago Herald (June 22, 1893) is priceless. Apparently the band assumed they would be playing on the ground, only to discover that they were supposed to perform from inside one of the gondolas.

It was with many misgivings that the bewhiskered leader got his men into the car. But once seated the men started to play a rollicking march. Then of a sudden the wheel began to revolve.

As the car ascended the man with the clarinet glared wildly out the window and laid his instrument upon the seat. Then the alto horn dropped out as the ground began to drop from beneath the players’ feet. As the car climbed to a greater altitude other horns and fifes withdrew their support from the leader, who wasn’t looking any too well himself. At the top of the wheel it seemed as though the march, which had been started with so much gusto a few moments before, had dwindled to the exertions of the bass drum and the piccolo.

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