Friday, July 24, 2009

July 25 is Merry-Go-Round Day!

Taller than 36 inches, long since out of elementary school, waaaay past goofy teenager...but still looking for a valid excuse to go indulge that merry-go-round-riding love that you never outgrew? Then July 25 is your lucky day, because it's Merry-Go-Round Day.


Call it what you will: carousel, galloper, roundabout, flying horses, or good 'ol merry-go-round, this circular musical horsie ride has been around for a long, long time - but it used to be serious business indeed.

"Carousel" originates from the Italian garosello, and the Spanish carosella ("little war"), and began as a combat training exercise for Arabian horsemen in the 12th century. To test a rider's skill, scented clay balls were thrown from one Arabian horsemen to another. If the rider was untouched by the scent of the clay, they were considered to be a superior rider. (No word on whether the scent was lovely, or...well...not.)

The earliest known carousel as a recreational ride is depicted on a Byzantine Empire bas-relief circa 500 A.D. It shows riders in baskets suspended from a central pole. (Doesn't sound terribly exciting, but I guess you had to be there.)

The carousel continued to evolve, and by the early 20th century - considered the Golden Age of the carousel in America - the contraptions had grown to become very large machines containing elaborate animals, chariots and decorations made by Old-World craftsmen who brought their considerable skills with them to America. (Quite a step up from hanging baskets!)


Some Carousel Comparisons
  • Modern versions of the carousel in America are mainly horses, while modern European versions have more variety: dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, and deer, among many others.
  • European carousel figures are usually in a still position (such as standing), while their American counterparts tend to be in more "active" poses: tossed manes, expressive eyes, etc.
  • In the UK and Europe, carousels usually run clockwise. In North America, they typically run counterclockwise.

Some Fast Carousel Facts
  • The first carousel at Coney Island, New York, was built in 1876 by Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver.
  • The oldest functional carousel in Europe is in Prague (Letna Park).
  • The oldest operating carousel in the U.S. is in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, built in 1893. This is a "flying horses" machine (animal figures are suspended from a central pole and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism).
  • Double-decker carousels - one of which is Columbia Carousel, found in Six Flags Great America and California Great America - are where one huge carousel is stacked on top of another.
  • William H. Dentzel of Port Townsend, Washington, is the only descendant from a founding American carousel family of the USA who is still currently making wooden carousels.

Some Carousel Terminology
  • The most decorative horses are the ones that face the public. This is referred to as the "romance side."
  • Carousel benches are called "lover's seats" or "chariots (gondolas)."
  • The horse on the outside and directly behind the chariot is referred to as "Lead (King) Horse."

Still want to learn more? Then point your traveling self to Sandusky, Ohio - home to the Merry-Go-Round Museum. If you can't get there in person, their website is full of fun: facts, history, and of course...a gift shop. And if a virtual visit just doesn't do it for ya, I bet you can find a carousel ride not too far from your neck of the woods. After all, it's a holiday, right? It would be unpatriotic not to get to one somehow...

Giddy-up!


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3 comments:

  1. Man, I used to LOVE the merry-go-round as a kid, but every since I actually gave birth to my own kids, the ride makes me feel kind of nauseated.

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  2. Nice article! Our town (Logansport, IN) has one of the last remaining Dentzel carousels in the world, probably dating back to 1885. It was fun to know that today is a day to celebrate that!

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  3. Clickersister - Lucky you to have such an interesting part of history right there in your town!

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