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Former Santa’s Village Ferris wheel-turner tells all

Those who once visited the former Santa’s Village in East Dundee probably remember the Ferris wheel slightly differently than Christopher Dearman.

To Dearman, of Huntley, who operated the ride as a teenage employee of the park, the ride was a nightmare.

“Having to control that dreaded Ferris wheel still puts a shiver down my spine, just thinking about it,” he writes in his new and first published book, “Santa’s Village Gone Wild! – Tales of Summer Fun, Hijinx & Debauchery As Told By The People Who Worked There.”

Available at Amazon and www.santasvillagegonewild.com, the book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the now defunct amusement park.

Dearman, 36, interviewed many past employees, and included his own recollections from the two seasons he worked there, beginning at age 15.

Some of the memories are family-friendly, others not so much. As Dearman put it, a lot of “hijinx” went on.

“It was a great summer job,” he said. “Everyone I ever talked to said it was the best or one of the best jobs they’ve ever had.”

Open for nearly five decades, the park closed in 2006. A grand opening of the area as AZoosement Park – a petting zoo and amusement park – is planned for May of next year, according to santasvillagedundee.com, a website created by the new owners.

A freelance writer, Dearman reconnected with former employees through Facebook a while back.

“Immediately, all these stories started coming back to my head,” he said.

He started writing them down, then created a Facebook page for others to share their memories. The book grew out of that.

It tells coming-of-age tales, as well as day-to-day stories. Dearman’s Ferris wheel experience is one of his favorites.

He couldn’t operate rides until he was 16 and was quite excited the day he was told he’d be in charge of the Ferris wheel.

When he got there, another employee taught him how to operate it.

“He told me the most important thing was to counterbalance the people when loading and unloading the carts that the people sat in,” Dearman wrote. “That it was crucial to do this as the old wooden wheel had seen better days, and could not handle uneven weight.”

The instructions were not as simple as they seemed as Dearman soon found himself struggling to balance out the wheel. Too much weight would actually cause the wheel to start moving in the opposite direction.

“Needless to say, I was now terrified of this spinning deathtrap,” Dearman wrote. “I kept trying to project my thoughts telepathically to everyone that came my way. ‘Please don’t ride this. Wouldn’t you rather ride the Tarantula?’ but the people would not stop coming.”

Dearman’s book also includes an interview with the park’s long-time Santa’s helper, and some secrets.

“The book goes everywhere from funny, sad to some debauchery,” he said.

Dearman said he is talking with a producer about turning the book into a television series.

And it apparently caught the eye of Pat Sajak, who tweeted Dearman that he bought a copy. Sajak is from the Chicago area.

Dearman is working on another “Gone Wild” book about Carbondale, where he graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in university studies.

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