There seems to be a lot of myth surrounding George Ferris’ life in Galesburg. But the Ferris wheel creator’s connection to town is all cleared up in Richard G. Weingardt’s book “Circles in the Sky: The Life and Time of George Ferris,” released earlier this month.
“Studying someone as mesmerizing and mysterious as Ferris is like solving an intriguing whodunit because none of his personal records remain,” Weingardt said in his book’s preface.
While some may think that George Ferris invented the Ferris wheel in Galesburg, the truth is he only lived here until he was 5 years old, when his family headed west to Carson City, Nev. But even though Ferris’ time in Galesburg was relatively brief, his family played a large role in the founding of the town and Knox College, as discussed in Weingardt’s book….
He said the Library of Congress sent him further research materials. He later began traveling to Ferris’ many homes, including Galesburg. Here he spoke with researchers at Knox College and saw what once was the Ferris family farm, just west of town. The house no longer stands, but a farm still operates on the land. No landmarks from the Ferris family exist today, except for Ferris Street, named for Ferris’ grandfather, one of Galesburg’s founders.
“Everywhere I went I found tidbits,” Weingardt said. Eventually Weingardt was able to string those facts together to create his book.
While the book is dedicated to Ferris and his achievements, it dedicates pages of its early chapters to Ferris’ family and their lives in Galesburg. As detailed in “Circles in the Sky,” Galesburg was founded by the Rev. George Washington Gale and Silvanus Ferris, George Ferris’ grandfather.
Weingardt provides readers with information about life in Galesburg’s earliest days, writing: “Despite Galesburg’s planned beginning, it’s layout didn’t differ much from other prairie towns that had no such orderly birth. Its streets, mostly running north-south and east-west, followed a typical checkerboard pattern centered on a public square. It was different in that it also wrapped around a college campus that was an integral part of the town. But the two main things that set Galesburg apart from other frontier settlements had nothing to with the physical layout. First, the town was founded as a religious community with forbidding rules about all things “sinful,” such as drinking and working on the Sabbath. The second was its stance on slavery.”
Weingardt goes on to discuss Galesburg as home to the first anti-slavery society and a stop on the underground railroad. The book also includes photos of Knox College and Ferris’ relatives.
When Weingardt began writing the book, he said he looked at Ferris’ invention, a wheel far larger than any building and was first displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and wondered what kind of man would create such a thing. He found that Ferris came from a family of inventors and explorers.
“The Ferris family members were all daring entrepreneurs who all pioneered different things,” Weingardt said. “My research in the Ferris family showed that was ingrained in him.”