A trip on the Flying Horses Carousel of Martha’s Vineyard offers a shot at that fabled brass ring.
Hundreds of carousel lovers are New England–bound this September. Why? It’s the 50th anniversary of the National Carousel Association’s founding in Sandwich, Massachusetts. And, “You have a lot of great antique carousels there,” says Patrick Wentzel, president of this preservation organization. We absolutely do. The best carousels are all a century-plus old; they are museum-worthy works of art, yet still spinning for our amusement.
The grandest of German immigrant Charles I.D. Looff’s carousels, this 1895 creation enchants with its onion-domed hippodrome that shelters 61 expertly carved horses, a camel, and four chariots, plus the original band organ that spurs them along. Your ride this summer helps support restoration work in progress.
Take the reins of a National Historic Landmark. America’s oldest operating platform carousel has whirled since 1876, and it’s been a Martha’s Vineyard “must” since it arrived from Coney Island in 1884. The glass-eyed horses, with genuine horsehair tails and shaggy manes, may be stationary, but this ride is speedy enough that grabbing a brass ring is never a sure thing.
Since 1914, 36 jumper and 12 stander horses with wild, teeth-bared expressions; imperial adornments; and real horsehair tails have entertained riders of this carousel, one of only three hand-carved by Russian immigrants Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein that remain intact. A pavilion protects these restored masterworks and allows for a 10-month season of $2 rides; a second pavilion is available for parties.
The three dozen hand-carved horses on this wheelchair-accessible carousel have gone ’round in the same spot since the summer of ’67. But these unique rocking ponies are world travelers, touring Bavaria in the late 1800s and delighting Canadian National Exhibition visitors in the early 1960s before Story Land founder Bob Morrell gave them a forever home at New England’s storybook multigenerational amusement park.
A gallop—or a glide, in one of two hand-whittled chariots—is the perfect breezy break from exploring Shelburne Museum’s eclectic exhibits. Last summer, 28,000 visitors rode the c. 1920 Herschell-Spillman carnival-model carousel, built during western New York’s ride-manufacturing heyday. When your horse slows and locks, head inside the Circus Building to see the 1902 Dentzel Carousel’s 40 horses, giraffes, goats, and big cats, all still with their original paint. This motionless menagerie remains a moving work of art.
Which New England antique carousels did we miss? Let us know in the comments!