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Finding the Ferris Wheel: How Archaeology and Technology May Have Helped Discover One of the Most Important Legacies of Two World's Fairs

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While touring Washington University in St. Louis with my son today, I knew we were walking across the former grounds of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. In fact, at one point, we even got to go inside one of the Expo's only remaining buildings.

But by day's end, I also found myself wondering what had become of the original Ferris Wheel-- which had been re-erected at the St. Louis Fair after its successful run at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

And that's when I came across this article about a concerted effort to locate the Great Wheel's remains-- 103 years after it met an unfortunate fate. 

The author doesn't have all of his Fair facts completely straight--  but he's clearly a scientist, not a historian-- and his methodical approach to solving a mystery is fascinating to read. 

Magnetic Survey to Find Axle from Ferris Wheel Used in the 1904 St Louis World's Fair

 

 

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I remember hearing about this.  The question, of course, is whether they did dig for the axle.  I don't recall ever seeing any information indicating that any excavations, much less discoveries, were ever made.

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I think it depends on how they value this thing.  I've seen streets torn apart for the dumbest reasons.  That axle might bring world's fair fans from all over and that could be of benefit to the local economy.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe the cost of what amounts to urban archaeology with a possible wonderful find is just not worth it.  But I can see that axle on display somewhere along with a creative Ferris Wheel display, and it might have the drawing appeal of the Civil War Hunley or the turret of the Monitor or something of that sort.  But who knows?  If the axle really is sitting under that roadway, it seems rather unfortunate to not continue the exploration for a remarkable piece of Americana.

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You'd think that some test bores would not be too expensive, but I wish that he had published a two-dimensional plot so we could see how sharply it is delineated in the cross-wise direction. Maybe the location is not so sharply defined as implied by his photo with the superposed outline.

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If I lived in St.Louis and the Fair was a part of my local history, I'd be pushing for excavation of that site where the axle is believed to be buried.  It's difficult to grasp that the local historical societies are not making a pitch for this plan as well.  If it's really buried there, that axle is an amazing piece of urban archaeology.  Of course, an argument could be made that the axle is more a piece of Chicago history and belongs there than it is a part of the history of St. Louis especially because St. Louis junked it.

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Chicago didn't want it either, so I'd say it's up for grabs.

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