Charleston club discusses just about anything

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - They gather the first Thursday of the month at the University of Charleston’s Geary Student Union for drinks, dinner and a topic that could be just about anything.

The Anvil Club has been meeting more or less continuously since the years around World War II. The group has evolved into a monthly forum for a presentation that can be on any topic except for a subject within the professional occupation of the speaker.

Like, say, Ferris wheels, the Eiffel Tower and Erector Sets.

Which just happened to be the topic of the March 6 Anvil Club talk given by Dr. Steven Artz, who otherwise practices nuclear medicine and endocrinology here in Charleston.

In 1889, the French had a world’s fair celebrating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Gustave Eiffel’s company designed a tower as the centerpiece for the exposition on the Champ de Mars, Artz said.

“Of course, the neighbors were not happy about it,” he said. They got up a petition which read in part: “Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a giant black smokestack….”

Eiffel says, ‘Hey, guys, this is the Egyptian equivalent of the Pyramids. Why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in France?’ He basically got his way and started to build this tower.”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 - otherwise known as the Chicago World’s Fair - was looking to rival the French tower with the creation of the world’s first Ferris wheel, a 264-foot-high contraption designed by George Washington Gale Ferris.

“The cars can have 40 people on them. Now, how do you sell a thing like this?” Artz said. “Well, one, you say it’s the highest ride in the country, in the world. Two, you can rent a car, and have a wedding, you can have a party. So they had some weddings, they had some parties. The revolution was 20 minutes to go around.”

The Ferris wheel was later disassembled and moved to Lincoln Park where it had a few good years before the company operating it went bankrupt. It was disassembled and moved to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair. And then it met its demise.

“They literally blew it up and sold it for scrap And it disappeared. That was the end of it,” Artz said.

But the Ferris wheel lived on as one of the big Erector Set kits sold by the A.C. Gilbert Company. Artz had brought a motorized working model of a Ferris wheel he had made from Erector Set kits he had bought on eBay.

After World War 11, Gilbert made science kits including one that allowed a boy to cast his own lead soldiers. “This was before OSHA. I don’t think you could sell that these days,” Artz said, much less a kit that explored radioactivity and had a Geiger counter and a small amount of Uranium-238.

He took questions and fielded observations from club members. “Where is the largest Ferris wheel?” asks Frank D’Abreo.

“The largest Ferris Wheel is probably going to be in Dubai.”

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