Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Historic Carousel Still Turns

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Loretta reports:

Yes, there was a carousel, and yes, I rode it, something I haven’t done in centuries.  This was another treat at the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, MA, on Cape Cod. Their American Art & Carousel Gallery contains a beautiful carousel.  Though built in 1908, it includes figures made over a twenty year span, as early as the mid-1880s.  Back then, the figures didn’t move up and down.  When overhead gears were introduced, they were converted—and let me point out that they move faster than one expects.  What they all have in common is the Looff factory.  Charles I.D. Looff, the founder, built Coney Island’s first carousel.

Though the original carousel was broken up and sold, the Heritage Museums have most of it today, thanks to Hallett Tobin, who diligently hunted down the carousel animals.  Sadly, he found the original mechanism had been left to the mercy of the elements.  However, the slightly smaller antique replacement is splendidly crafted and works perfectly. 

In nearby Rhode Island, another Looff Carousel has National Historic Landmark status, as well as being designated “the State Jewel of American Folk Art.”  I’d definitely classify the carousel in Sandwich as the jewel of the Heritage Museum’s eclectic collection, and perhaps a jewel in general of American Folk Art.  Certainly the figures are beautiful examples of the artisans' care and craftsmanship—down to the horses’ metal hooves and real horse hair tails.

Among bits of information I picked up about carousels:  Most have one major figure, with fancier decorations than the others, called the “lead” horse.  The operator used this horse to count the number of times the horse went round.

Lead Horse
I also learned an interesting difference between English and American carousels.  What do you think it is?


Quinn said...

I'm guessing they turn in opposite directions?

Regencyresearcher said...

I'd guess that one goes clockwise and the other counter.
I love carousels.
Therre used to be an old one on the grounds of the Smithsonian in D.C. During teh summer of 1967 we went to DC from Baltimore nearly every Sunday to visit the Smithsonian and ride the carousel. The children loved it.
Carousels are the only part of fair grounds I usually like. Some have cars istead of horses. ONe had all sorts of animals. Ut was fun to ride an Ostrich.

Ashlea said...

My hometown still has an antique carousel, which can be rented for parties.

Mantelli said...

We have a Dentzel from the 1920s in St. Louis.

Kat Sheridan said...

I'm lucky to leave very near one of only about 200 Grand Carousels still operating. The one at the Columbus Zoo was built in 1914 and is still operating. I've ridden more times than I can count. And yes, they go fast enough to feel the breeze lifting your hair! I'm going to guess that American ones have almost all horses, while English ones include other fanciful animals like elephants and giraffes and swans.

Isobel Carr said...

We have two in the Bay Area (that I know of). A 1914 one in Golden Gate Park and a 1911 one at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that still has the ring pull for a prize! So many memories as a kid trying to get one of those rings (they were harder to pull than you would think).

Anonymous said...

Midway State Park, once a small privately owned amusement park on Chautauqua Lake located in Western NY still has a 1900's era working carousel.
Growing up,a man in a neighboring town had a carousel set up near his ice cream stand. He was a former circus clown for Barnum and Bailey. In the summer, we couldn't wait to go,hoping he would be there so we could ride. He was the only one who operated it-- his family members saved it and stored it in their barn-it would be great to see it restored and used again.

QNPoohBear said...

The one in RI is in my hometown! It's still in original working condition and a cheap and fun activity. They recently added a little museum and some old-fashioned games to give it more of an authentic experience.

DollMum said...

In England Carousels go in the opposite direction from the French and USA carousels and are called Gallopers. in Scotland they are called Jumpers. I have watched a woodcarver carving a horse at the Great Dorset Steam fair and the packing up of Noyces Gallopers late on the Saturday night at Dorset to appear the following night in St Giles Fair in Oxford. these days many horses are cast in fibre glass as it is lighter and easier for the showmen to carry.

LorettaChase said...

Gold stars to the readers who said the carousels go in different directions. In the U.S., they go counter-clockwise; in England, it's clockwise. Both American and English carousels have other figures besides horses. The one in Sandwich had a goat as well as a dragon-adorned cart (for ladies in long dresses and those who couldn't climb onto the horses). On display nearby were a lion, an ostrich, and a reindeer. I will try to get more photos up on my blog and Facebook.

Karen Anne said...

There are three original carousels in Rhode Island:

and a reproduction at Roger Williams Park.

mwsgilbert said...

There is a steam-operated, portable carousel that was built in 1894 by Armitage Herschell which is still in operation at Willowbrook Village in Newfield, Maine. You can see it in operation, courtesy of YouTube:
. The village is a gem: .

Hels said...

I think the difference is in the name. We call them roundabouts or merry-go-rounds, not carousels. The first time I heard the word "carousel" was in a musical by that name.

Great idea to give the carousel National Historic Landmark status. Yes the figures are beautiful examples of the artisans' care and craftsmanship. And also to say that leisure time activities were an important part of social history.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket