I never run out of things to write about when dealing with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Fair took place from May 1, 1893, through October 30, 1893, and changed the way the world looked at Chicago and vice versa.
The date was Monday, October 9, 1893. It was “Chicago Day” at the World’s Fair and meant to pay homage to Chicago’s resolve after the great fire of 1871. The fair broke an all-time attendance record that day exceeding 750,000 attendees.
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition or “White City” as it became known, was a world’s fair full of firsts. One of the firsts was the world’s first Ferris Wheel. In fact, George Ferris designed the wheel specifically for the fair. I have a hard time explaining how large this first Ferris Wheel was. At approximately 256 feet high it was about 50 feet higher than our Centennial Wheel currently at Navy Pier. I believe one of the Centennial Gondolas will hold eight people. The 1893 Wheel would hold up to 60! They looked like 36 trolley cars suspended over 250 feet in the air! Fully loaded the wheel would carry close to 1,500 passengers on an hour-long ride.
If you happened to be hanging around the Ferris Wheel in the center of the Midway Plaisance at about 1 pm, you would have witnessed a spectacular sight.
Colonel Edmund Rice, who had just been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor the year prior for bravery during the battle of Gettysburg, was in charge of the security of the fair. He oversaw the fair’s police of over 2,000 Columbian Guards and the plainclothed Secret Service.
That day he happened to have been escorting his cousin, Maude Gill, a 21-year-old young lady from Lagoda, Indiana. They were looking up at the grandeur of the Ferris Wheel, with the multitude of other onlookers when Ms. Gill asked, “Has any woman ever ridden on the top of the car?” Rice looked at his young cousin and responded to the negative. “Then I will!”, she said.
The brought Miss Gill up to an upper platform and both Colonel Rice and his cousin climbed a railing and were standing on top of one of the cars!
As the wheel started it’s two revolution, one hour trip, Miss Rice did not hang on to anything but rather walked back and forth waving an American Flag that she had taken with her.
The crowd erupted in huge applause as others held their breath watching the young daredevil and medal of honor winner.
When the ride finally came to a stop and both were assisted off the car. Miss Gill remarked at how splendid the ride was and that she wasn’t scared a bit!
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