What is it about painted horses that follow each other around and around in a circle that’s so compelling? Ever since carousels first became part of New York’s Coney Island boardwalk scene in 1886, their appeal hasn’t waned. Head to almost any amusement park, carnival, zoo, fair, or boardwalk and you’ll find one. Many are the centerpiece of a public park or a downtown looking to attract travelers.
Perhaps part of their appeal is because so many people have childhood memories of a carousel ride. My earliest carousel memory is of the one that used to be at the Coney Island outside Cincinnati. That one was moved to Kings Island when that park first opened.
There’s also the user-friendly aspect. A carousel is the one ride that everyone can climb aboard. From babies to grandparents, to dating couples and all ages in between, no one looks out of place when sitting on a wooden horse carved to look like it’s prancing or galloping.
Another appeal may be the way carousels test the push and pull between children and adults. First, there are those years when the child sits on a horse with the parent or caregiver firmly holding the child in place. Then, as both become braver as the child grows, the adult is at the other side of the rail–waiting, watching for and waving over and over again as the child disappears and reappears around the corner again and again. A carousel ride is one of the first tests of independent travel. It’s the proof that if one goes out into the world, he or she will come back, and that the people who love us will be smiling at the door with outstretched arms to say welcome home.
Because their appeal has not diminished over the years, many vintage carousels still exist. Here are ten that are perfect for reliving a childhood memory. Each have a romance side.
Some of these carousels are open year round. Others are seasonal. All of them are vintage and have carried riders over the years. Each have a romance side–all carousel animals do. The romance side is the front that the viewer sees. At the back side, although the animals are painted, they don’t have elaborate carvings or designs that the front sides do. Check this out the next time you ride one.
1. Flying Horses Carousel, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Supposedly the oldest carousel in the United States, the Flying Horse was built in 1876.
2. The Antique Carousel, Casino Pier, Seaside Heights, New Jersey. For over 90 years, these carousel horses have followed each other to the music of the Wurlitzer Military Band Organ
3. Bishop & Breinstein Carousell (B&B), Coney Island, New York. This carousel is the only one that remains of the 25 that used to be located at this famous boardwalk. The word carousel has two l’s because that’s the way the frame builder spelled it.
4. Bushnell Park Carousel, Hartford, Connecticut. This carousel, built in 1914, is located in downtown Hartford. It used to be in Canton, Ohio. Although it’s only open to the public seasonally, you can rent the carousel for private parties any time of the year.
5. Fall River Carousel at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts. Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1920, this carousel graced Lincoln Amusement Park for 70 years until it was brought to Battleship Cove. Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the famous people who have ridden on this one.
6. Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Maryland. near Washington, D.C. This 1921 beauty is one of the few vintage carousels in the United States in its original location. Called a menagerie carousel because it has other animals as well as horses, this attraction was restored to its original brilliance in 2003. It’s the only carousel owned by the National Park Service.
7. Olcott Beach Carousel at Olcott Beach Carousel Park, Olcott, New York. This 1928 Hershell-Spillman carousel is not the original one of this location but it is similar to the one that used to be here.
8. Santa Monica Pier Carousel, Santa Monica, California. This carousel is one of the 70 remaining wooden vintage carousels that continue to operate. The building that houses it was built in 1916 and is on the National List of Historic Places. Perhaps you’ve seen this one in a movie or two.
9. Central Park Carousel is in a location that has had a carousel since 1871. The original one was “powered by a blind horse and a mule.” The current carousel replaces one that was destroyed in a fire in 1950 and has the largest carved figures ever made.
10. Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round, Tilden Regional Park, near Berkeley, California. Called a merry-go-round because it features other animals besides horses, this ride has been located in a variety of places ever since 1911 when it was first made. It arrived in Tilden in 1948.