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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Coney Island Carousel in Central Park

In case you missed the brand-new issue of Carousel News and Trader magazine, the merry-go-round in Central Park is turning 100 years old this year.

The original Central Park carousel was installed in 1871 and was, according Sara Cedar Miller’s excellent park history, hand cranked! Manual labor was soon replaced by a blind horse or mule that was hitched to a crank in the building’s basement. In 1924, an electrified carousel was installed, but this burned down the night of November 7, 1950, in what was perhaps an electrical fire, and the carousel we have today was opened soon thereafter.

The current Central Park carousel originally opened at Coney Island in 1908 during the heyday of the boardwalk as a leisure destination. Known as the BMT Trolley Carousel, it was built by the firm of Stein & Goldstein, one of America’s premier carousel manufacturers. Many of the early amusement parks at Coney Island were run by the trolley companies—as an incentive to ride a certain line, your ticket to Coney Island would also include admission to that company’s rides. However, by the 1940s the subway had displaced the old trolley companies and the BMT carousel was in a warehouse gathering dust. Luckily, when the Central Park carousel burned down, someone remembered that this old Stein & Goldstein merry-go-round was in storage and it was moved to Central Park.

If you haven’t checked out the Central Park carousel recently, it’s well worth a visit. Stein & Goldstein’s handiwork is amazing: each horse is unique and the outside horses are 3/4-life size. (According to Carousel News and Trader, the Central Park horses may be largest hand-carved specimens left from the golden age of carousel manufacturing.) The carousel also reaches a top speed of about 12 miles an hour—more than double the speed of a typical modern merry-go-round.

Photo by mvhargan on flickr.

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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love the Central Park Carousel. And even though I'm probably too old, I still ride it! I only wish it were warmer.

Anonymous said...

You're never too old!

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