The Carousel: A Piece of Americana
The Golden Age of Carousels began at the turn of the last century and lasted only until the 1920s. In that short time over 7000 carousels were built on American soil, all of which had dozens of sculpted figures hand carved by relatively few immigrant artists. The era began in the 1860s, when master carvers like Charles I.D. Looff turned their attention away from making furniture and toward sculpting animals. These astoundingly patriotic immigrant carvers put their hopes and dreams and faith in America into their work. What came out was a new American art form: the carousel.
The Whalom Park Carousel is a piece of that Golden Age. Its fifty-eight menagerie animals were hand carved by Charles I.D. Looff, one of the earliest and most famous carvers of the era. Looff pioneered the Coney Island style of carving, as the first carousel he carved was the first to ever spin at Coney Island. The figures on the Whalom Park carousel span his career and his carving styles, dating from the 1880s to the 1900s, and include greyhounds, sea dragons, camels, giraffes, goats and, of course, horses.
About 1909, William F. Mangels, a carousel manufacturer and inventor, pulled together these Looff carvings for the first time on one machine. The carousel was brought to Whalom in 1914, where it has brought magic and memories to the many generations of Americans who have ridden it since. Eighty-six years later, riding in the saddle of a hand-carved horse has become a rarity. Fewer than 200 of the 7000 carousels built still spin on midways, at parks or in museums across the country. But for those of us who ride them, they continue to evoke the same joy, imagination and dreams that carousels always have.
The construction photo above is from October 1948, when the Midway was redesigned and the carousel moved to its present location. It shows the present carousel building under construction. You can see the dome is basically complete, and the side walls are still under construction.
To the right is an early photo of the Whalom Park Carousel, from a 1915 vintage brochure. The caption reads: "English Carousel: One of the Finest Merry-Go-Rounds in America. Equipped with a Berni Organ." This building was constructed in the spring of 1914 at a cost of $3000, and was ready for the grand opening on May 29 - Memorial Day - of that year. This building was replaced by a second building with a less steeply pitched roof, in the same location, sometime in the 1920s.