From the Old Pine Rocker: An Imaginary Carousel Ride


How lucky we are to have the wonderful Krape Park Carousel.

I’ve mentioned in this column before that on days when I want to escape the stress of adulthood for a few minutes, I’ve been known to drop my coins for a ticket and ride one of the fancy horses to see life in. from a whole different point of view.

Some time ago I inherited a coffee table book called “Painted Ponies American Carousel Art” and I love pictures of beautifully carved vintage horses from the golden age of carousels, 1870 to 1930.

Unfortunately, storms, fires, neglect, and depression have taken their toll on many structures, but according to the National Carousel Association website (, a number of these classic wooden carousels, some built at the turn of the century, are still active throughout the United States Washington, California and the East Coast seem to have the most; I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a list for Illinois.

I always thought that if I were wealthy independently, I would take a tour of the country to see historic rides, rogue wooden horses, and learn about the fascinating stories of their sculptors. In fact, the Carousel website has already provided a huge amount of information and maps that would be helpful in planning such a trip. What an adventure that would be.

I learned there was the Coney Island, the Philadelphia style, and the country fair type rides, and a lot of the horse and other animal carvers were immigrants from Europe, cabinet makers and master carvers, who have found a new vocation in the United States

Some had learned their trade creating religious sculptures for churches, so angels and cherubim often found a place on the rides. By 1919, carving machines were widely used, but before that, the master sculptor produced the head and ornate details on the outside of the animal’s body while apprentices made the collage, sculpted the legs and bodies and were working on the single inner row of animals. .

Each artist had their own style and their animals were often easily identifiable. For example, Gustave Dentzel, known as the Hobby Horse Bill, was a German cabinetmaker who created animals from 1870 to 1928. He is said to have sculpted horses that were more anatomically correct, realistic, graceful, royal, and with gentle demeanor. . Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, on the other hand, designed powerful steeds that seemed to have a hard time escaping.

My book shows photos of sculptors in their workshops with rows of horse heads sitting on shelves. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to watch their incredible skill.

An old legend says that there is a lead horse on every merry-go-round. It is the largest and most beautifully decorated horse, usually a war horse or a military horse. If there is a chariot, it is usually the horse directly behind the chariot. Imagine that, a pecking order on a carousel?

There is so much history and breathtaking art to discover on my imaginary carousel journey. The National Carousel Association’s website and Facebook page offers an abundance of information.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll head over to Krape Park and see if I can figure out which of the dashing creatures is the head.

If you haven’t taken a ride on our very special ride recently, I highly recommend it. Life is too short not to savor a few minutes of fun and imagination. You might also interest kids in learning a little more about these magical twirling platforms of majestic steeds.


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