In 1893, the world came to Chicago in the form of the Columbia Exposition or World’s Fair. This event put Chicago on the world stage like never before. Francis O’Neill was a lieutenant in nearby Hyde Park and would have observed all the construction and crowds from his home on Drexel Avenue. Perpendicular to the fair in Jackson park was the Midway “Plaisance”. In many ways it was the first modern theme park. The main attraction of the Midway was the remarkable construction of Martin Feriss: A giant wheel that took people on a thrill ride overlooking the city. The idea of a giant wheel as an attraction still captivates people today; the London eye being a modern example.
For the full history of the wheel’s construction and sad demise, I recommend the following article on the Hyde Park Historical Society’s site: Ferris Wheel in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The story is ultimately a tragic one as:
The wheel was the wonder of two continents by reason of its cost, its dimensions, and its utter uselessness. It was the rival of the Eiffel Tower of Paris. Chicago was glad to get rid of it and St. Louis is said to have witnessed its destruction with satisfaction.
Ferris and his great wheel were gone but he had left, as a legacy to generations of entertainment-seekers, the World’s Greatest Ride [Hyde Park Historical Society]
The legendary Kevin Burke plays The Wheels of the World accompanied by John Carty on Guitar: