This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Let me nominate the Ferris Wheel as the most American of all artifacts, from beginning to end.
Its beginning was certainly American. Young George Ferris, Jr. of Galesburg, Illinois, was invited to create a rival for the Eiffel Tower for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. America had to have the biggest and the best. George Ferris's invention did the job. It was just as spidery as the Paris tower; even better, it didn't just sit there: it worked, in a nice capitalist way: 250 people at a time paid good money to rise twenty stories above Chicago.
So popular was the Ferris Wheel that it turned up at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Then, the story turns even more American. The Ferris wheel got lost. No one remembered what happened to it.
The solution turned out to be more American still. The Sphinx and pyramids just sit there on the desert deteriorating. But when the Ferris wheel turned out to be too big to move again, it met the typical American end: it was blown into small bits by dynamite charges all along the wheel.
Over the years, dust collected. Parts of the wheel were used for scrap metal during World War II. Eventually, people even forgot where the Ferris Wheel had been.
Now, you are saying, it can't get any more American than that. Just wait. A few years ago, an archeologist from Washington University in St. Louis began to excavate in a search for pieces of the missing wheel. She and her students have now located more than 6,000-wheel fragments. They are on the trail of the 60-passenger gondolas.
Build, blow up, and restore is the story of America. Only one thing remains. Within five years, I expect this Ferris Wheel, born, died, and resurrected in the Mississippi Valley, to be housed in new Museum of the Ferris Wheel, complete with guided tours and a lunchroom serving Columbian Exposition Burgers.
Here's your chance to be even more American than George Ferris, Jr. What about designing a Ferris wheel revolving condiment tray for salt, pepper, ketchup, and relish. It could be the hit of the Museum gift shop.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.