mardi 14 septembre 2010

Country fairs and Ferris wheels

Le présent article a été rédigé par Jacquie Bridonneau, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera publiée prochainement.

I just got back home from spending an afternoon at the Conches-en-Ouche annual fair, which is held on the second week-end in September, in celebration of Saint Cyprien, the patron saint of our little town in the middle of Normandy (not that anyone would actually be able to give you any information about this holy man though!) But like most fairs in most towns, we enjoyed our share of annual events including the inauguration of a local art exhibition (yes, we have an inordinate amount of gifted people living here), a hunting horn concert in our beautiful church with the horn players dressed in their traditional red habits, a parade with floats made by different associations in our little town of 5,000, marching bands, clowns, confetti, and the most important event for all the little children who came in from miles around, a real country fair full of rides, games, cotton candy, candied apples and many other exciting events.


The weather was perfect, and the fair was packed. Turning tea-cups, bumper cars, fishing ponds, merry-go-rounds, high swings and little roller coasters, just to mention a few of the things to coax parents into parting with their money while keeping a smile on their faces. But think of the pictures, and the memories! Leaving is always a tough moment, hard to negotiate with the kids, but that just means that the fair was a success, doesn’t it.

Our little town of Conches is too small though to have the one thing that makes a fair special to me – yes, you’ve probably noticed that I did not mention a Ferris wheel. Nice and slow, round and round, view after view, no high speeds, this is my very favorite ride, and actually I could probably say, the only one my children were ever able to lure me into going on with them when they were little. And it’s one of the only rides that actually has the name of a real person incorporated into it. So was my beloved Ferris wheel actually invented by a Mr. (or Mrs.) Ferris?

Yes, actually using the same logic that tells us that Columbus discovered America, George Washington Gale Ferris, an engineer, did invent the Ferris wheel, and actually not all that long ago. This was commissioned by the state of Illinois, for what was to be known as the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America, which took place in Chicago. This was also an opportunity for Americans to try to play one-upmanship to France, with its iconic Eiffel Tower built for the Paris Exposition of 1889, and already a success.

The original Ferris wheel cost nearly $400,000.00, stood 264 feet high and amazingly for such a huge engineering feat, only took about four months to make. (Maybe that was before metal working unions and general administrative red tape took over to slow things down to a snail’s pace, but who am I to say?) Each car could hold 60 people, and it took 20 minutes to make one complete revolution. This Ferris wheel was a great success in the 1893 Colombian Exposition, netting a comfortable profit between the opening on June 21st and the closing on November 6th of $395,000.00 for the company that commissioned it.

Currently the largest Ferris wheel in the US is the 212 foot “Texas Star” in the Dallas, Texas state fair. The “Roue de Paris” commissioned for the 2000 millennium celebrations in France stayed in Paris for two years, and is a transportable version, requiring no permanent foundations and it can be erected in only 72 hours and dismantled in only 60 hours. Perhaps I should talk to the mayor of our town so he can see if it’s available for next year.

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