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Posts Tagged ‘Carousels’

Almost 150 years ago, a boy wanted to ride a carousel, but he was too poor to buy a ticket. He must have been fascinated by the brightly painted horses that galloped around and around to the cheery music. He made himself a promise that if he ever became rich, he would build carousels for children to ride for free.
When he grew up, he became an industrialist and owned several factories. He was a good employer and a benefactor to the communities that housed his factories. Among many other things, he built parks and donated carousels to the parks. There was one condition, that the cities would never charge money for riding his carousels.
This is a true story. My grandfather worked in one of those factories, and as a child, I rode those carousels.
My siblings and I were very fortunate. We lived out in the country where we could climb trees, swim in ponds, wade in creeks, catch fish, and roam about the fields and woods. The city children had to be content only with playgrounds. I’m sure that going out to the country was as much a treat to them as going to a playground was for us. But they were able to walk to their parks, and we depended on adults to take us there, so going to a playground was only an occasional pleasure for us.
The swings and slides were fun, of course, but the best of all were the merry-go-rounds. They were magic. The horses came in all colors and styles and there were also lions, tigers, and other wild beasts. For parents with babies too small to sit on a horse, there were chariots where they could be seated and enjoy the ride. Being a fan of the Black Stallion books, my mount of choice would usually be a black horse with a flowing mane.
My favorite merry-go-round had music from a Wurlitzer band organ. In my memory, it played one tune over and over but I never got tired of it. I do not know the name of the song but I can recall the melody and the words I put to it in my head. Beside the organ was a bass drum. A mechanical arm would strike the drum to the beat of the music. The drumstick had hit that drumhead so many times, it had worn a hole in the center, which was patched with tape.
Riding around and around with the music in my head, in my fantasies I was riding a real horse. When the ride ended, we would all exit and run around the pavilion to line up for another ride, over and over again, until we had to go home.
This summer, my son Joel told me he wanted to show his family where I had lived as a child and where his grandparents and mine had lived, worked, and gone to school. I did not tell him about the carousels before we made the trip. I wanted it to be a surprise. My favorite was closed for repairs, which is forgivable after nearly 100 years of delighting children, but my second choice was open and running.
This merry-go-round was in pristine condition. The pavilion it is housed in looked newly painted. Inside, around the top of the carousel, the panels painted with pastoral scenes and faces of Indians and frontiersmen looked as fresh as they had when they were first made. There were no wild animals to ride, but the horses were beautiful. They were of all colors and styles: some tossing their heads, some with fierce defiance in their eyes, and some intent on racing forward. The old music had been replaced with a modern sound system. This music was more varied, but it was still instrumental, with no lyrics to impinge on a private fantasy.
My son pointed out what a feat of engineering the carousel was. As a child I had never taken note of this. The large, round platform held 72 horses, four abreast. Each horse was suspended on a pole from a jointed rod which extended from the center pole. As this rod turned, each horse galloped independently of its mates. Platform, horses, hardware, and riders were all supported by guy rods from the single pole in the center. A motor turned the whole mechanism through a complex series of gears. Our ancestors managed to work wonders without the help of computers.
With still no admission price, and no posted age limit, I mounted a horse beside my grandson James and was carried away. The magic is still there.
I did not ride over and over again like I had when I was a child. Once or twice was enough. I wanted to take pictures, which was a challenge since the merry-go-round moves faster than my shutter finger, but it was pleasant to sit on a bench alongside the wall and watch my child and his enjoying themselves.
I look forward to going back again to ride the merry-go-rounds. Of course, it would be best if I were to take grandchildren with me.

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