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Flame on!

A big part of vacations and summer fun is a visit to an amusement park. Every year, the region's amusement parks such as Dutch Wonderland, Hershey Park, Dorney Park and Knoebel's Grove, add new and exciting rides to their line-ups, but there's always a fascination with the old-time rides.

For instance, George W. Ferris, a Pittsburgh bridge builder, built the ferris wheel for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The exposition commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' landing in America.

The fair's planners wanted something that would rival the Eiffel Tower. The famous tower was built by Gustav Eiffel for the World's Fair held in Paris, France in 1889.

Side-stepping the Ferris story momentarily, here's a little local history on that Eiffel Tower. That architectural marvel used "The Phoenix Column" in its design by Eiffel. The Phoenix Column was invented by Samuel Reeves, of the Phoenix Iron Co., Phoenixville, in 1862. The design was the first column structure composed of rivited iron pieces. In addition, puddled iron was imported from Phoenixville to build it. Puddled iron is a kind of wrought iron that has a higher tensilled strength.

Back to the ferris wheel. The 250 foot diameter wheel was supported by two 140 foot columns. The ride consisted of 36 wooden cars holding 60 riders each. The cost to ride the giant wheel at the Chicago World's Fair was 50 cents. The original Ferris Wheel was destroyed by fire in 1906, but more versions were built later.

Another popular ride for youngsters and the young at heart is the carousel. Believe it or not, the concept for this musical ride on ornately carved horses and other animals dates back to the 1100s.

Turkish and Arabian horsemen played games on horseback that Italian and Spanish Crusaders called "garosello" or "carosella." A major event of the tournament was the ring-spearing with the rider's lance.

About 300 years ago, a Frenchman got the idea of building a device to train young noblemen on the fine art of ring-spearing. His device consisted of carved horses suspended from chains radiating from a centerpole.

Gustav Dentzel was the man who is credited with pioneering the carousel in America in the 1860s. America's carousels were more elaborate than those of Europe. Dorney Park, near Allentown, had a Dentzel carousel that was destroyed by fire in 1982.

The golden age of carousels lasted in this country until the 1930s when the Great Depression and the economy produced a decline in amusement parks.

Interest in carousels returned in the 1970s, and many original rides still in existence were restored at that time, but of the more than 4,000 carousels built in America during the golden age, only about 150 exist today.

Knoebel's Grove, Elysburg, has a grand carousel that was carved by George Carmel in 1912. It is believed to have come originally from Riverview Park, N.J. It contains the apparatus for riders to snatch the brass ring for which carousels are famous.

HersheyPark's carousel was built by Philadelphia Tobaggan Co. in 1919. It was built for Liberty Heights Park, Baltimore, and it was brought to HersheyPark in 1944. It consists of 42 jumping horses, 24 stationery horses and two carved chariots. Music is provided by a 1926 Wurlitzer Military Band Organ.

There's much more to our history of amusment parks and next week, we'll take a look at roller coasters and other related rides. So stay tuned!

So, be the Good Lord willin' and the creeks don't rise, see ya next week!

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