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Oak Bluffs, Ma, A Nostalgia Trip on a Carousel

Updated on May 29, 2011

Flying Horses Carousel


A recent visit to the island of Martha’s Vineyard found me staring into the eyes of a beautifully painted carousel horse. His eyes were mesmerizing. I found out later the oxide eyes each contain a tiny hand-carved animal. This is a tradition from the original carousels in 1876.


The ‘Flying Horses Carousel’ in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts is the oldest platform carousel still in operation. It was one of the original works built by the Charles W. Dare Company of New York. In 1876, the first home for this beautiful carousel was Coney Island, New York  In 1884, Attorney F.O. Gorden moved the carousel to Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.  It was moved again in 1889 by the then owner, William Davis, to its present location.


Stepping away from my up close and personal view, I watched as the horses circled while the young and old tried to grab rings from an extended metal carrier. There are two ring carriers, one on the outer circle and one on the inner circle. The person who gets the brass ring will receive a free ride. The old fashion organ music sent my mind back into the bygone days when life was simple.


Martha's Vineyard Preservation

In America carousels have been called; whirligigs, flying horses, hobby horses and merry-go-rounds. In England they are called roundabouts or gallopers. The English carousels turn clockwise while the American ones turn counterclockwise.  The English say they have the proper direction because you mount the horses the proper way from the left.


If these magnificent horses were not saved by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust in 1986, I would probably be looking at another sweatshirt shop.  A group of people wanted to purchase the carousel and destroy it by selling the horses to antique carved horse dealers. The Trust maintains the carousel.

Historic Landmark

The carousel contains 22 wooden horses with real horse hair tales and manes. The horses do not go up and down.  The horses were all restored by Rosa Regan. She is the premier carousel conservator in the United States. The center of the carousel has a painted historic panel done by a Dare factory artist. In 1923 a Wurlitzer Band Organ was a welcome addition.  They play tunes from your grandparents’ era on original paper rolls. The carousel was named to the National Historic Landmark in 1987. 


Another carousel is located in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.  Check out your area to locate the closest one to you. You might just get the brass ring.


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    • Dianemae profile image

      Dianemae 5 years ago

      Summer is almost here and I look forward to visiting again. You did some great work, Thanks.

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      Jane Chittick 5 years ago

      I was the founding Executive Director of the Vineyard's Historical Preservation Society (Trust) in 1980 until I left in 1992. I led the fundraising efforts to purchase the carousel in 1986. I also hired Rosa Ragan to restore the horses the following year and traveled to North Carolina to oversee Rosa's work. We ran the Carousel from 1986 onward.

    • profile image

      Husky1970 6 years ago

      I remember vivdly taking my young daughter to the Flyin' Horses just about nightly in July and August. That was in the late 70's and early 80's. She's 34 now. Where does the time go? Thanks for bringing back the memories with this hub. Voted up and awesome.

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 6 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Thanks for the informative hub. Keep up the good work.