Carousels In America - Things You Didn't Know
Upon reading this request, I thought of three things.
First, I remembered having trouble climbing up onto a carousel horse and hanging on to it as it moved up and down in a simulated lope on an ancient merry-go-round at the tiny Gooding Amusement Park on the grounds of the old Columbus Zoo. My head only came to the bottom of the stirrup at the time.
This was just before Jungle Jack Hanna transformed it into the showplace that it is today. I remember the carousel, a machine that flattened Lincoln pennies and printed the Gettysburg Address on them, a cage of friendly popcorn- eating white raccoons, a couple of mud puddles, empty animal cages, a zoo train that never ran, one lion, a gorilla, and a highly smelly elephant house with two friendly beasts. That's about all there was until Jack and some grant money got a hold of it.
The second thing I recalled was the wonderful children's chapter book published in 1950: Prance, a Carousel Horse. It's about talking carousel horses after their ride was dismantled, and their lives afterwards.
The third item that came to mind was an old amusement park in eastern Pennsylvania, which was turned into a shopping mall. The carousel horses were removed from the ride and hung from the ceiling of the mall in an amusement park décor. I thought it odd and sad that the park had been completely eliminated for retail sales, but enjoyed the décor.
Now a fourth wonderful thing I suddenly remember is an old video I purchased of a 14-year-old Wayne Newton performing on the Lawrence Welk Show in a spot about a carousel. Ladies in wide fancy skirts held long, wide ribbons attached to a May Pole rig near which Wayne sang, and the women and their beaus danced the circumferance of a carousel-like dance set while the song continued. The dances rose up and then bent their knees in accompaniment to the music, appearing like carousel characters. It was really quite innovative for the era (black and white TV) and Wayne Newton had the largest smile on his face. A youth, he was having a good time performing for an older audience.
Johnny and Alice
Horses and Hats
And all of these three wonderful things reminded me of a Disney feature in which was sing Johnnie Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, a song about two shop hats in love, separated upon purchases, but later reunited. When they were both lost discarded, they ended up on the heads of two horses that worked together.
Would that life would find that way in the 21st century.
Carousels and Crusades
In the Middle Eastern nations such as Persia (Iraq), Arabia, and others of around 300 AD, a sport was played by horsemen of the military and royal families in order to hone their skills for war.
The sport involved horses galloping at full speed with riders spearing their lances through small rings attached to nearby trees. It is what Europeans made into jousting tournaments later in history, but without the element of lancing another horseman. The Latin-based language speakers called the activity little war or carosella in their languages.
Europeans marched into the East during the Crusades and marched back with ideas about this Middle Eastern sport that was based on war. It became a children's game as well, though still based on war and competition.
The French named the activity carrousel and built a contraption in order to confine the area of the sport and game, operating the device on steam power. An added feature was "grabbing the brass ring" from a pole at the outside of the circle of the carousel. Success became a ticket for a free ride or a confection. America took these ideas and expanded them.
Visit the National Carousel Association online and learn more about how America's 150 carousels are preserved.
American Carousel Man
The USA entered the carousel design business with much gusto and innovation, Bigger, better, more characters than just horses. Some of the carousels' horses did not move up and down (finally, I would no longer fall off). Love seats and benches were added to the merry-go-rounds for adults to enjoy as well, especially if they wanted to keep an eye on the kids on the ride.
Carnivals and circuses all featured a merry-go-round or carousel in the later 1800s and early 1900s. Trolley Parks that hosted carousels and other rides were built at the end of the line of many trolley car lines, in order to gain amusement business. This lasted until the Great Depression. After World War II, America saw the return of the carousel to small carnivals and large circus midways. Zoos often enjoyed attached carnivals and midways as well. By the late 1960s, our giant amusement parks included them.
Mr. Gustav Dentzel developed what came to be known as the modern carousel in America during the American Civil War in the 1860s. This was the era in which my great grandfather fought in the Union Army and was preparing to work on the construction of the National Road in western Ohio. After the Civil War, the carousel was popular and after WWII they became popular once again.
The International Museum of Carousel Art works to being stored carousels out of retirement in order to restore them physically and to return them to active use. Once all hand carved from high quality woods, the characters were later made of metals and peeling paints that cheapened the concept of the carousel horse. Cheap metal and plastic toys worsened the image.
By the 1950s and 1960s, many grocery stores had a single mechanical horse ride, coin operated, just outside their entrances. The ride lasted about 60 seconds and kids screamed for nickels and dimes and later, quarters and 50-cent pieces for these machines.
However, in the latter 20th century, a new interest in antique and other high quality workmanship returned.
Carousel History in Mid-Michigan
The Midland Center for the Arts had reported on fine arts and craftsmanship for over 40 years and has made relevant presentations to the public. One of these is "Carousels: Art & Science in Motion."
The display travels around the country and is owned by Carol and Duane Perron, who live in Oregon with 1,000+ carousel animals and a museum.
As carousels became electrically powered with generators in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were easier to set up and tear down in America. Mid Michigan, particularly Saginaw, came to have several Trolley Parks at the end of its trolley car lines. The parks contained carousels and other money-making amusements that built business on formerly quiet weekends.
Carousel popularity continues until the Great Depression, when they passed oput of affordability. They came back after World War II and declined with the advent of the giant amusement park, althought hey were still featured as kids' rides. Today, they are musuem pieces, although a few antique carousels have been restored and returned to the carnival, the circus, and the zoo across the USA.
An older covered carousel is still available at the Children's Zoo in Celebration Square in Saginaw. Michigan.
Carousel Wood Carving Styles in America
- Philadelphia:Characters are larger - strong and realistic. Carved by men from Germany in Philadelphia's Germantown. The first firm was begun by wood carver Gustav Dentzel. The German craftsmanship was also used for other wooden products in Philadelphia: cuckoo clocks, sleds, toboggans, and many others.
- Coney Island: Characters are thinner and stylized, more like cartoon characters or even murals.
- County Fair: Characters are much smaller, with very slender bodies, because they were made to be dismantled moved weekly. They are more like toys. The Herschell-Spillman Company of North Tonawanda, NY is the most famous of these manufacturers, featured at the New York State Museum (see photo above).
Wooden Carousels Featured Many Types of AnimalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Flying Horses! - in Martha's Vineyard
The Flying Horse Carousel at Watch Hill is purportedly oldest among American platform-style carousels, or so it states in the National Historic Register of the United States. Once hand cranked, it is now mortoized.
A decade afer the Civil War, in 1879, one of the popular post-war traveling carnivals broke down at Watch Hill. The owners had to move on and leave their carousel at Watch Hill, which evolved to Martha's Vineyard and a prosperous tourist Mecca. It is on display there now in the 21st century.
The Flying Horses Still Fly - $1.50 a Ride
- Archeology of the Flying Horses
Watch Hill adopted the carousel and motorized it. Restorer's dug through 50 LAYERS of paint to restore it.
- Carousel and Other Properties
The Preservation Trust accepted our oldest operating 'platform' carousel & National Historic Landmark in 1986. One of only 2 built by Charles Dare in 1876 at Coney Island for the US 100th birthday year. Real horsehair; tiny charms in the glass ey
© 2009 Patty Inglish
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