“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Chason Gordon
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! He’s riding the new Ferris wheel on Seattle’s waterfront! How about that.
Yes sir, the Space Needle and brooding grey clouds will certainly have some competition as icons of Seattle’s skyline, for a new Ferris wheel adorns our waterfront, that place you haven’t been to in years. Did it mysteriously pop up overnight like a crop circle? Or did it take a great deal of time and effort, like a crop circle? Only the following paragraphs will tell.
In case you don’t know, the first Ferris wheel was built in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, by one George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. (you see, when you name your kid after someone famous, it puts a lot of pressure on them). From then on no city was considered a real city until it owned a Ferris wheel (these are my standards). Seattle rectified this primal flaw by erecting a Ferris wheel for the 1962 World’s Fair. It was housed in the Gay Way, a small amusement park that later became the Fun Forest. The wheel spun until 2010, when all the rides were dismantled in front of crying children and shipped off to cities where the kids were good (“Mommy, why are they destroying the rides?” “Because you didn’t clean your room!”).
One man, however, still believed in fun. His name was Hal Griffith, restaurateur and owner of Pier 57. For nearly 30 years he’s been trying to build a Ferris wheel in Seattle (I bet he wouldn’t have had this kind of trouble if his name was Dale Chihuly!). As anyone who’s played RollerCoaster Tycoon knows, putting up a Ferris wheel is no easy task. There are permits and safety concerns, and it also takes a long time to find a creepy-looking carny to run the damn thing. Griffith eventually decided to put the Ferris wheel on Pier 57, partially in an effort to draw people to the waterfront during the construction of the deep-bore tunnel (and what a view you’ll have of the construction!).
Everything was smooth sailing until a shark appeared in the water, a shark named the Seattle Center. In 2010 City officials announced plans to build their own giant Ferris wheel on the site of the former Fun Forest for the celebration of the Center’s 50th anniversary. It was an old fashioned Ferris wheel showdown. Griffith called for a duel in the center of town, which is somewhere around 4th Avenue, I think.
“This town ain’t big enough for two Ferris wheels!” yelled old man Griffith.
“You take your best shot Griffith, and I’ll take mine,” said Mayor McGinn, getting off his bicycle. “We’ll let God decide.”
Legend has it that Griffith won the day, mainly because the company that planned to build the Center’s Ferris wheel couldn’t secure liability insurance. That’s the Old West for you.
And so The Great Seattle Wheel opened to the public on Friday afternoon, ending our long Ferris wheel drought (I asked to bless the wheel, but Griffith wouldn’t let me). The wheel was modeled after the London Eye on the banks of the River Thames (and so, apparently, was our weather). It stands about 175 feet in diameter and raises riders as much as 200 feet above the pier and 40 feet out over Elliott Bay. But this isn’t your grandma’s Ferris wheel. Instead of hanging bucket seats, the wheel has 42 climate-controlled gondolas, each able to hold up to six passengers, or two kissing couples and one sad fat man. A $13 ticket gets you 3 rotations in a ride that lasts approximately 12 minutes, which is more than enough time for a quickie (what?).
Of course with anything built these days, we have to bring class into it (as premium Capitol Hill Times members know), which is why the Ferris wheel hilariously has a VIP gondola, fit with a glass bottom and four leather chairs (it’s where we hold our editorial meetings). Tickets are $25 and come with a t-shirt and shorter wait times (“Now boarding our VIP members only”). It’s at least worth trying out once, just so you can say to people, “You haven’t ridden the Ferris wheel until you’ve been in the VIP gondola.”
It must be noted for the purists out there that this is not actually a Ferris wheel. A standard Ferris wheel has open bucket seats that hang and stay upright because of gravity, but ours has motorized capsules that turn separately on circular mounting rings (like a pointless ski lift). Therefore that thing spinning on the waterfront right now is technically an observation wheel, but we’ll keep calling it a Ferris wheel, because George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. is too dead to do anything about it. Happy riding!