Today my guest is Irene Peterson, fellow author and lover of carousels.
Thank you, Shelley, for allowing me to intrude.
Beach Colors makes mention of an old carousel in Crescent Cove that has been shut down, though Jake and his father want to reopen it. Unfortunately, the cost of restoring a wooden carousel is prohibitive. Such is the story of many seaside carousels in America. Many East Coast carousels were destroyed in the hurricanes of 1938 and 1944, so the one in Crescent Cove is a real treasure.
At one time, there were over a thousand wooden carousels operating in parks across the country. These beautiful wooden creations, made mostly by three manufacturers (Looff, Philadelphia Toboggan and Dentzel) were the pride of their owners, the delight of everyone who ever rode one of the fantastic creatures and the towns that possessed them. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that the carved horses and mythical creatures were regarded as art and valued as such.
That caused a problem. The animals were valued so highly that wooden carousels got sold off for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some were replaced by fiberglass replicas, others were not. People pointed with pride at their static carousel horses standing in their living rooms or museums while little kids lost out on the opportunity to ride.
The first depiction of a roundabout comes from a Byzantine bas relief circa 500 AD showing a large pole with baskets hanging from it and people in the baskets. Later, the concept of a device that turned round a pole was used to train knights. They would gallop their live horses toward the target, a weighted bag at the end of an arm that would swing around. A weighted bag on the other end of the garosello or carosella (“little battle”) would swing back at the knight, capable of unhorsing him.
There are three types of carousels, named for how their animals are shown. There’s the Coney Island style originated by Looff, the Philadelphia style carved by Dentzel and the country fair style which was rather simple and easily transported, made by Herschell. Since it can take many months to carve one horse, other workmen were involved, but these men made the animals works of art. Many of their carousels still run across the country. In some, the horses move up and down on their poles, thanks to a jog in the rigging. Some horses leap and some race. Some do not have platforms. The sizes, quality and positions of the animals differ greatly. Some have music provided by steam band organs.
I love carousels. My family has traveled far and wide to find wooden carousels, even going up to the Herschell carousel museum in East Tonawanda, NY to see how the horses were made. There are also two lovely carousels there.
While on that trip to upstate New York, we visited one of the six carousels in Binghamton and Endicott. These were purchased by the Endicott-Johnson shoe manufacturer who employed many of the residents of these towns and were free for all to ride. The one in Ross Park charges admission—one piece of litter per child. The park is spotless, of course.
Please note: Carousels and merry-go-rounds are not the same things. Merry-go-rounds are playground equipment that usually have a flat circular table or benches and metal railings to hold on to when the kids
Thanks Irene for sharing the magic.
Irene has spent most of her life in Central New Jersey where all the pools are above ground and the front doors come from Home Depot. She writes contemporary stories ranging in location from the Jersey shore to England to where mysterious things happen.
Link to Irene’s novels.