The Branson Ferris Wheel opens soon

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BRANSON, Mo. Maybe it's the feeling of a bygone era or the thrill of floating where birds fly. Whatever emotion it evokes, most agree there's something special about a Ferris wheel.

"I'm not sure exactly what it is -- the fun; the little bit of fear of the height," said Theresa Hildebrandt.

When every nut and bolt is in place, a ride on The Branson Ferris Wheel will mean going up, up, up to a dizzying height of 150 feet..

"I am super excited. In fact, we drove by and I looked at it and I go, 'Oh my gosh.' I've been to Paris, so it reminds me of the Ferris wheel in Paris," Hildebrandt said as she and friend, Megan Newberry, ate concretes from Andy's Frozen Custard while watching the wheel being put up.

The newest attraction to Branson's Highway 76 at The Track Family Fun Parks didn't come from France, but it does come with its own history. Modeled after the first Ferris wheel built for the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, it was an icon at the city's Navy Pier overlooking Lake Michigan from 1995 until 2015, in which time 17 million people rode the Ferris wheel including Newberry and her young daughter.

"It's beautiful to see everything from up there. The skyline in Chicago was absolutely amazing and to see it from the Ferris wheel is more fun," Newberry said.

Over the two decades in the Windy City, some people went up for fun or thrills, while others took a ride so they could later take the plunge. There were some 600 marriage proposals on the Ferris wheel, according to Craig Wescott, president and CEO of The Track Family Fun Parks. A single loop around, he said, took about 7-1/2 minutes but, if the operators were tipped off that someone was going to pop the big question, they would stop the ride when the love birds' gondola reached the top.

When the iconic ride went on the market, The Track Family Fun Parks snatched it up; Wescott said the views in Branson will be just as spectacular as they were in Chicago.

"Up there, it was skyscrapers and Lake Michigan, and here it's the Ozark Mountains and Highway 76 and the entertainment," he said.

Semi after semi — more than 20 -- trucked the wheel in piece by piece from Chicago, and engineers from around the world have been putting it together. The first gondola — each one seats up to six people -- was put in place on Tuesday and 39 more will go up.

The Branson Ferris Wheel likely will open by mid-June, just in time for the summer tourism rush. Wescott said the company invested upwards of $4 million to get the Ferris wheel, but he expects it will be a popular destination for the Ozarks. A ride will cost adults $12, kids $8, and children 3 and younger will ride for free.