Retro Rides Add Magic to 75th Annual Dogwood Festival

Atlanta’s quintessential weekend in the park, the Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park has always been a crowded but laidback affair with bands, art vendors, food, kids’ activities and dogs who chase Frisbees. So when organizers looked for something to make its 75th anniversary year even more memorable, ATLRetro is jazzed that they decided to think backwards to a ride that has been the signature of world’s fairs, expositions and festivals of bygone days—a Ferris wheel.

And what a Ferris wheel they found—the Seattle Wheel. The largest traveling Ferris wheel in the nation at nine stories high, it seats four abreast in each car and was built in 1963 for the Seattle World’s Fair. That’s big for most Ferris wheels of today with the exception of stationary giants such as the London Eye. To put it into perspective, the first Big Wheel, designed to rival the Eiffel Tower in its mechanical wonder, was built for the legendary Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Its cars were 24 feet wide and carried up to 60 people!

“We wanted a signature piece for the 75th anniversary because the festival is all about making memories,” says Brian Hill, the festival’s executive director. “A Ferris wheel appeals to all ages. Seniors remember when they use to go on Ferris wheels as a regular thing. For younger couples, it’s a great date night piece. And for kids who have never ridden a Ferris wheel before, it’s an exciting thing to do.” Hill also thinks it’ll be a great way to see all the changes in the Midtown skyline over the last decade. With all the lights, it’ll be especially magical at night, he adds.

Shooting the chutes at the Cotton States and International Exposition at Piedmont Park, 1895.

As the Dogwood Festival is the third oldest fine arts festival in the country, it wouldn’t seem right to create a full Midway, Hill says. But the Ferris wheel will have one companion ride—a vintage 1965 carousel. While the festival, founded to celebrate Atlanta’s best-known spring blooms, doesn’t have a history of rides, it’s interesting to remember that Piedmont Park was originally designed as a site for expositions which did feature carnival-style Midways and rides, including at least one Ferris wheel. The largest and most ambitious of these, Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895, featured the Phoenix Wheel, and another highlight was “shooting the chutes,” an early water ride reminiscent of the Six Flags log flume, into Lake Clara Meer!

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