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...




  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.

  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!

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


So, what's on your mind?