It is June 1893, and the Ferris Wheel is nowhere near completion. The cars in which passengers will sit haven’t been hung yet, and observers say that the wheel looks like it is about to collapse. Luther Rice assembles the engine and orders the wheel to be spun. Ferris himself is unable to be in Chicago for this occasion, but his wife, Margaret, is in attendance. The wheel’s safety has been mathematically verified, but its motion is unpredictable since no object up to this point has been subject to the same forces.
Larson builds the suspense before detailing the history of the wheel’s final assembly. While it’s true that Ferris and his colleagues are educated engineers who know the science of lifting the heavy object into the air, it’s also true that workers have died working on similar projects during the building of the WF. Thus, the stakes are high as Rice prepares to finish the wheel.
Everyone at the World’s Fair watches as the wheel turns for the first time. Workers risk their lives to climb aboard the frame of the wheel (no cars have been installed yet). Stray nuts and bolts fall from the wheel. The wheel takes 20 minutes to turn 360 degrees — it’s successful. Soon after this, the first cars are hung on the wheel. The designers know that this is a serious challenge, since it will subject the frame of the wheel to its first big stresses.
Even after the wheel spins for the first time, a huge amount of work remains to be done. Interestingly, the workers risk their lives voluntarily for a the opportunity to be the first to ride the Ferris Wheel. This suggests that, in spite of the danger involved in building it, the Ferris Wheel is a mesmerizing spectacle, even to the people who spend months building it. It’s also a testament to the incredible bravery of the people who aren’t always remembered for their role in building incredible buildings — the construction workers.
While the Ferris Wheel’s rotation is a major event at the World’s Fair, Chicago as a whole is more interested in the arrival of the Infanta Eulalia, youngest child of Queen Isabel II of Spain and the sister of King Alonso XII. Chicago officials want to use Eulalia’s arrival to prove to New York that it is an elegant, refined city. Eulalia is at first impressed with Chicago’s size and anonymity — she sneaks out of her hotel and walks around unaccompanied. But at the World’s Fair, where Mayor Harrison is her escort, she is bored by the throngs of tourists who are delighted to see her, and envies the women who can move through the crowds without attracting any attention.
Chicago seems not to understand what makes it unique among the cities of the world. The new anonymity that’s possible in the cosmopolitan streets appeals to Eulalia, since she’s spent her entire life being watched by others. Eulalia’s “outsider perspective” on Chicago reinforces how unusual this level of anonymity was at the time, and how it attracted millions of people to the city.
Eulalia attends a party in her honor organized by Bertha Palmer, a fixture of Chicago society. She only stays for an hour. Next week, she’s late for a concert held in her honor. She greatly enjoys Chicago and gives Mayor Harrison a gift of a golden cigarette case. Nevertheless, the Chicago newspapers are offended with Eulalia’s apparent indifference to the city’s reception. Instead of enjoying the parties in her honor, she seems more comfortable going to German restaurants and eating sausages and sauerkraut.
Chicagoans are offended that Eulalia chooses German food instead of “native” hospitality. In this way, they seem to misunderstand once again what’s so appealing about the city they live in. Chicago can be gracious and hospitable, but more importantly, it offers freedom and variety: Eulalia loves the freedom of the city’s streets and the variety of its restaurants.