The heyday of the carousel lasted only 25 years; by 1920, it was over.
For most of us, carousels conjure up images and memories of our childhood. It may very well have been the first amusement park ride you went on. The colors, lights, music, and animals are prime kid bait, and it holds true for adults, as well. I am continually fascinated by the aesthetics of a carousel, from the carved animals to the paintings and adornments. They are true works of art.
I once did a tour behind the scenes at Walt Disney World, where I was able to see some of the horses from the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel (the ride formerly known as Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel) being refurbished. There was a horse, stripped of all its paint, just standing as a beautiful wooden sculpture. The moment made me fall in love with them as an adult. This particular Disney attraction is also a piece of history; it was created in 1917 and spent time in Detroit and New Jersey before being rescued and taken to Florida.
Of the over 6,000 carousels that were produced in that early 1900s heyday, only about 200 survive. Many have been lost over the years to flooding, fires, and plain old neglect. Today’s new horses are replicated from molds made from the originals, but are now more easily made using things like fiberglass. Early-era wooden horses can fetch prices well over $100,000 each.
Here are some links to learn more (and see more) about these magnificent works:
- Carousel facts – Learn a few more interesting tidbits from this list of carousel info, like what to call a horse with three feet on the ground, or why one side is more ornate than the other.
- Carousels.com – For when you’re reeeeeally into carousels, including collecting memorabilia and restoration, this site will keep you connected to others just as enamored as you.
- The Carousel Works – Got some spare change? Wanna buy your own carousel or have one restored? The Carousel Works claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of wooden carousels, offering a more authentic product. If anything, it’s pretty neat to see their photos documenting their work and process.
- National Carousel Association – The NCA works to help save these treasures from becoming extinct. By clicking on their “Census” link, you can find continually-updated databases to help track down carousels by location and type.
- International Museum of Carousel Art – Based in Oregon (though currently closed for relocation), the site offers links and even “Carousel College,” a page to learn about things like restoration and care, terminology, and history.
- Jane’s Carousel – When in Brooklyn for the first time a couple years ago, we saw this carousel hiding inside a brick building, behind some windows. I was curious about why it was there. In a blog post I read recently, the mystery was solved. Jane’s Carousel is a 1922 set acquired at auction 27 years ago by Jane Walentas and her husband David, with the purpose of full restoration. As of this past September, this beauty is now open to the public in a gorgeous pavilion right by the water.