After hosting countless marriage proposals, first kisses, and people who didn’t realize they were afraid of heights until it was too late, Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel carried its last-ever passengers Sunday evening.
The 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel is slated to be replaced by one 200 feet tall that will feature temperature-controlled gondolas and is slated to open in 2016.
In a last hurrah, 7,223 passengers rode the wheel for free between 10 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m. Sunday. The wheel, which opened in 1995, made its last turn about 8 p.m. Sunday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was among the people who got in one last ride Sunday. He emerged from a gondola Sunday afternoon and proclaimed “It was great!”
Emanuel was accompanied by 11-year-old Alecsandr Sallay, who served as honorary Mayor-for-a-Day. “I was just telling him that we got a new teacher and math is going pretty well,” said Sallay, a sixth-grader at The Ancona School in the Kenwood neighborhood.
“The Ferris wheel, like our architecture, put Chicago on the map worldwide,” Emanuel said, referencing the debut of George Ferris’s invention at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, and daughter, Ilana, also made the trip to Navy Pier Sunday.
Clinton Shepherd, Navy Pier’s park operations manager who set a world record by riding the wheel for 48 hours, 8 minutes and 25 seconds in the summer of 2013, was also on hand.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Shepherd, 34. “But we’ve had 20 great years out of it, so now it’s on to bigger things.”
One strange memory from the wheel: the only marriage proposal that was not accepted.
“It was a little odd. … She just walked off, basically. It was kind of quiet, so we kind of knew what that moment meant,” Shepherd recalled Sunday, noting that one last proposal was expected before the final ride Sunday evening.