Navy Pier offers free Ferris wheel rides for 125-year anniversary

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We're taking you on another kind of special tour: a behind-the-scenes look at what keeps this iconic ride spinning. (WLS)

Navy pier's centennial wheel has given more than a million visitors on a unique view of Chicago.

Now, we're taking you on another kind of special tour: a behind-the-scenes look at what keeps this iconic ride spinning.

"This is where everything is being controlled for the Ferris wheel," said Navy Pier's assistant director of guest experience, Clinton Shepherd, standing in a perch across from the wheel's western face.

A control panel can "open and close the doors, we're able to communicate to each guest in each gondola," Shepherd explained.

The team also controls the wheel's glowing light show from here and can alter the speed. We know what keeps the lights on, but what keeps the wheel spinning?

8 drivers connected to tires at the wheel's base do the job.

"There's four on each side and this is what powers and pushes and moves the wheel," said Shepherd.

The whole rig weighs almost 500 tons, including 42 gondolas. One of them is a VIP gondola with leather seats and a glass-bottom floor you can look right through.

No matter which gondola you're in, you'll have a stunning view from nearly 200 feet up.
"On one side you get the beautiful scenic view of our skyline, downtown Chicago and on the other end you get to see beautiful Lake Michigan," said Shepherd.

Owen Hupfer, visiting from Iowa with his parents, added you "kinda get to see all the boats."

On the roughly 15-minute ride, you'll also see water shooting out of Buckingham Fountain, rising above the trees of Grant Park. Plus, look out on people milling about below.

Gazing at the wheel from the ground is mesmerizing too.

"Well that's the first thing you see," said Renea Short as she craned her neck to look up.

Towering above the pier, the Centennial Wheel takes its own place in the Chicago skyline-fitting since the original Ferris wheel debuted in the Windy City at the 1893 World's Fair.

On June 21, 125 years to the day since that first ride, Navy Pier celebrates the invention's lasting legacy with free rides and performances as the wheel keeps spinning.
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