Friday, February 10, 2017

Photo Essay: The Coney Island Carousel in Central Park

"The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off..." — Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye



I've got a lot of brass rings to try to grab in New York City still.



There are a lot of carousels there that I haven't made it to yet.



I don't remember ever even seeing one in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park; and I never made it to Forest Park in Queens. And, in my defense, the Sea Glass Carousel and Jane's Carousel both opened after I'd moved to California.



So, on my last trip to NYC, I found myself outside the wrought iron fence of the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, one of the "Scenic Landmarks" of Central Park...



...and—with a turntable measuring 50 feet in diameter—one of the largest carousels in the country (with some of the largest horses).



The current Central Park Carousel is actually the fourth one to be located more or less on this site at the south end of the park, in the former "children's district" near West 64th Street, just down the way from Tavern on the Green and Sheep's Meadow.



It was crafted in 1908 by two Jewish immigrant woodcarvers from Russia, Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, who'd partnered in their Artistic Carousel Manufacturing Company of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.



They gave the carousel a pair of decorative chariots...



...and 57 hand-carved horses (52 of which are jumpers).



Of course, the first Central Park Carousel in 1871 was actually powered by real horses (and a mule).



The subsequent two burned down (which happened far too often).



This one, though, had stayed in Brooklyn for over 40 years, spending its last decade or so abandoned in an old BMT trolley terminal in Coney Island until it was donated to Central Park in 1951.



The music comes courtesy of a Ruth und Sohn band organ from Germany with 86 keys, two drums, a tambourine, and cymbals. It plays 20 paper roll records of waltzes, marches, and polkas.



The Central Park Carousel was restored in 1990, giving a little new polish to its flamboyant, bejeweled horses with big heads and giant teeth, characteristic of the "Coney Island style" made most famous by Charles Looff.

With a carousel career that really only lasted about a decade (at which time the "Golden Age" was coming to an end), Stein and Goldstein made less than 20 carousels. There isn't much of their work left out there to ride besides the Central Park Carousel (except perhaps the King Arthur Carrousel at Disneyland).

But it actually feels like I've got too many carousels to ride, while I can still climb up there (and not surpass the weight limit) and while they're still around.

There's still a chance that any of them could burn down or be washed away in floods or monsoons.

Maybe I can't get to them all, but I don't want to know.

So don't say anything.

Related Posts:
A Change of Heart in Central Park
Photo Essay: The Faces of the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round