Lately I am trying to develop a better habit of not only capturing the sites that spark my aesthetic interest, but also to research their history and relevance to their location – an effort to enrich artistic and intellectual growth, or fulfill Jeopardy training. Today’s post, The Carousel:
Formerly the centerpiece of American Amusement parks, the carousel originated from an Arabian and Turkish game, played on horseback. Brought to Europe by the Italian and Spanish crusaders, the game, Carosella, took on a higher extravagance, especially in France. Later the game was transformed into a training exercise for young horsemen – replacing the live animals with carved horses and chariots. During the late 1700s, the French “carrousell” became an amusement across Europe.
With the development of the steam engine and it’s eventual application to the carousel, larger and more elaborate machines became possible. The modern carousel in America was pioneered by Gustav Dentzel. Dentzel built the first American carousel in Philadelphia. The city went on to become the carousel-making capital of the world during the early 20th century. He and an expanding group of craftsmen created hand carved masterpieces that served as the main attraction for emerging resorts and parks across the nation – with the “Philadelphia Style” emerging as dominant in the industry. The art form waned as the Great Depression took hold during the 1930s. Later, as the economy improved, newer and more advanced methods of producing the carousel animals were utilized. The laborious task of hand-carving each creature and chariot was no longer necessary. Additionally, as more and more amusement rides were developed, the carousel faded from the centerpiece of the parks to a children’s attraction.
More recently, interest has grown in the hand crafted carousel creatures as collector items. Carousels were bought and dismantled for auction or sale of the individual pieces. Today, of the more than 4000 hand crafted carousels produced in the early 1900s, approximately 150 remain intact. (The Carousel Museum)
Of course, the carousels that I frequent (with my four year old!) are not the artisan creations of the past, but they still hold a certain wonder for me. The colors, elaborately detailed animals, sparking lights and gilded edges…I love it all. Modeled after Gustav Dentzel’s Philadelphia Style, the Liberty Carousel at Franklin Square Park did not disappoint – at least from an aesthetic point of view. Unfortunately, on the day we visited, it was not working. My smaller companion was slightly disappointed. I, however, was still able to enjoy the attraction!
Enjoy your day!