Carousels In America - Things You Didn't Know

A Carousel Horse at Roger Williams Park in Providence RI.
A Carousel Horse at Roger Williams Park in Providence RI. | Source

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.

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My favorite character, a black charger,  on the famous Illions-Mangels carousel at the old Columbus Zoo. First located at Olentangy Park in Clintonville not far from the end of the train line in the Short North (park is now an apartment complex)Carousel at Night
My favorite character, a black charger,  on the famous Illions-Mangels carousel at the old Columbus Zoo. First located at Olentangy Park in Clintonville not far from the end of the train line in the Short North (park is now an apartment complex)
My favorite character, a black charger, on the famous Illions-Mangels carousel at the old Columbus Zoo. First located at Olentangy Park in Clintonville not far from the end of the train line in the Short North (park is now an apartment complex) | Source
Carousel at Night
Carousel at Night | Source
Source
Source

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.

Source

Real Carousel Horses

 

Dentzel Carousel

The San Francisco Zoo, founded in 1929, houses a historic Dentzel Carousel built by William H. Dentzel in 1921. It is intricately hand-carved wood throughout. Since the 1930s carousel animals were metal and fiberglass, but this is wood.
The San Francisco Zoo, founded in 1929, houses a historic Dentzel Carousel built by William H. Dentzel in 1921. It is intricately hand-carved wood throughout. Since the 1930s carousel animals were metal and fiberglass, but this is wood.
Photos public domain, US National Park Service.
Photos public domain, US National Park Service.

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.

Wooden horses.
Wooden horses. | Source

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 Animals

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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.

© 2009 Patty Inglish

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Comments & Carousels You Have Enjoyed 15 comments

dcmerkle profile image

dcmerkle 7 years ago

This was great. Not only was it informative, you focused in on the carosels in your State. Good job!.

DCMerkle


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Brought back a lot of good memories! I wonder if I can get on my favorite character horse now - The Coney Island type of carousel has been restored and running at the zoo since 2,000.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

I loved this, and as always learned a lot. "Little war", who would have thought.

It brought back some good memories for me, too. My Dad used to take me to ride the Merry-go-round, a famous one at the old "Pike" amusement park in Long Beach, CA.

My story about that;

http://millikanalumni.com/Pike/BestEmailStories3.h...


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for your link, Rochelle! I'll enjoy reading it.


Netters profile image

Netters 7 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

I love carousels. Thank you for taking me back.


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

I've never heard of the 1950 book, but I would LOVE to read it.  I must see if it's still available at a price I can afford!

My mom would do May-Pole parties for all the neighborhood kids.  They really are so much fun.  I tried doing one for the church youth group, but they just didn't see the point in "walking in circles around a pole".  Lack of imagination and way too much technology these days.  I'd love to see the Lawrence Welk production.  I used to watch that with my grandparents.

Thank you for putting the cartoon in.  THAT is how cartoons should be made!!

I didn't know all the history behind the carousel.  Our mall used to have a carousel in the middle.  My kids LOVED to ride it.  They knew every horse's name and would ride a different one each time in hopes of riding them all because they didn't want any of them to feel left out.  A couple of years ago, the mall suddenly announced they were getting rid of it.  So sad.  I think a large church purchased it and uses it in their ministry now. 

This is fascinating!!  You can tell I enjoyed it by the novel I wrote based on all the memories you brought back to me!! 

THANK YOU!!!  I'll definitely be back!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Netters - Always a pleasure to have you here and commenting. I hope future generations can have such good memories as some of ours.

Proud Mom - I think the book is only available by sales and on the self at the Library of Congress, so if you're ever in DC, you can read it there :) But I think I saw it listed in a library in Illinois a few years back. Anyway, if it's so valueable, you'd think a few libraries would hold onto it. Frustrating. I bet there are copies of it in attics across America right now!

Several cities must have had a carousel at their malls at some point - when traveling I always see at least one "Carousel Mall." I hope the particular church uses the carousel well, but how sad for the rest of the kids looking for it, not knowing where it went!

Have you ever read the Raay Bradbury story of the carousel that reversed your age if it went backwards? He wrote some uhnique carousel and carnival stories, to be sure.

Thanks for sharing your stories with us!


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

No, I haven't read it. Do you know the title?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

I can't recall the title, but I had read it in a collection of his short stories at the library. Hopefully, I'll run across it soon again and I'll let you know!


amy jane profile image

amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut

Patty, I love that you included the Flying Horses in Martha's Vineyard! We have taken our kids there every summer, and it is the very first stop we make when we get off the ferry! It really is a classic - and reaching for the brass ring - and getting it - becomes an obsession for many kids and adults.

Great hub! :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Hooray, amy jane! What a fun comment to add to a carousel Hub. I am high tailing it to the zoo's carousel this month as a treat to myself!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I've always loved carousels, Patty. When I was a youngster I occasionally got to the Playland Amusement Park in Rye, N.Y., where the carousel ran very fast. I had to hold on tight. There's a carousel, also, at the Danbury Mall in Connecticut that I couldn't resist riding when I was there (My kids are grown, so I couldn't even come up with an excuse.) The information you offer is fantastic, most of which is new to me -- and very interesting. I love the Andrews Sisters and I remember their rendition of "Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet," but I'm not sure if I ever saw the cartoon. It's wonderful that you've included it here. This was a really great hub. Thanks.


Lilymag profile image

Lilymag 7 years ago from Upstate New York

How cool! I live 35 minutes from Carousel Mall in Syracuse....Go there all the time for our "shopping"!

Thanks for another great hub!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

William and Lilymag - Thanks tremendously for sharing your carousel experiences. The Carousel is apparently a very large character in American history altogether, along with the traveling circus and carnival, about all of which Ray Bradbury wrote. We could always take a camera when we ride as adults and explain that we are doing an article!

William - I've always remembered the cartoon and the song, along with the book "Prance a Carousel Horse" as pleasant moments in childhood. Delighted that the cartoon is on YouTune so we can hear the Andrews Sisters once more.


lovelypaper profile image

lovelypaper 6 years ago from Virginia

Very interesting. Brings back memories.

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