America's Best Carousels
Brooklyn’s waterfront has long been famous for its skyline view, but now there’s a new way to enjoy it: from the saddle of an ornately carved horse at Jane’s Carousel. Built in 1922, the restored carousel spins within a modern glass shed below the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
It took exceptional devotion to complete the 27-year restoration of Jane’s Carousel, but most of us can easily relate to the nostalgic appeal of a merry-go-round: the sound of the organ, the whimsical wooden animals pumping up and down, the lights reflected in the mirrors. And while carousels aren’t likely to be the reason you travel, they’re often placed somewhere iconic (Boston Common) or beautiful (Santa Monica pier), where you’d be drawn naturally. The ride is an added, affordable delight.
“The carousel was the first form of mechanical recreation and the original root of modern amusements,” says Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association. The earliest carousels date back to around A.D. 500, though you’d hardly recognize them: rather than lit-up spectacles, these were baskets hand-spun around a central pole. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that carousels as we know them came into existence.
Today, roughly 400 merry-go-rounds are in operation across America, whether in city parks or at kid-friendly attractions such as zoos. Michigan’s Grand Rapids Museum finds its own way to incorporate the wild: its carousel is housed in a glass building that juts over a river. With a little imagination, you’ll feel as if you’re about ready to gallop through the water.
If you want more of a tangible rush—as far as carousels go—swing by Cedar Downs Racing Derby in Sandusky, OH, where the mechanical horses reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and move back and forth as they vie for first place.
So what is in store for the future of carousels? Well, according to Largent, it’s a nod to the past. “The latest trend is a return of the wooden carousel,” says Largent. “We may indeed have as many wood-carvers today as during the height of the industry in the early 1900s.”
Read on to see our favorite carousels around the U.S., and share your own memories in the comments below.