If you can only get one carnival ride for your event or party and you want something that’s a real crowd pleaser, you can’t go wrong with carousel rides. The lights, mirrors, music and beautifully crafted horses and menagerie animals charm and delight young and old alike.
The concept of the carousel originated with a game played by Turkish and Arabian soldiers. They would ride in a circle tossing a bag full of perfume back and forth. The soldier who missed the ball would be drenched in scent and would become the object of ribbing by his mates until the scent wore off.
The French took up the concept and included it in a number of exhibitions on horseback. Among these was a competition to spear a ring that had been hung from a tree or post while galloping along at full speed. In order to practice for this event, young knights used a machine equipped with wooden horses on a rotating platform. The platform would be pulled around by a person or a live horse or mule. When it wasn’t in use by young knights in training, the carousel was a source of amusement for children and maidens fair.
In time, the carousel became a popular attraction at county fairs. Eventually, enterprising entrepreneurs design steam power driven carousels. This meant that carousels could be larger and heavier since steam engines are stronger than humans, horses or even mules. This opened the door to the creation of large, elaborate carousels equipped with horses, tigers, giraffes and other carved wooden animals that were truly works of art.
After the Civil War, carousels began to show up in the United States. The period from 1880 to 1930 was known as the golden age of carousels. During this time there were about half a dozen big carousel makers in the US. They employed master carvers to create the beautiful and whimsical animals that have made carousels such an enduring attraction.
During the golden age of carousels, there were several different styles of carousel that were distinct and unique from one another.
* The Coney Island style carousel was a very fanciful and elaborate affair. Menagerie animals and spirited horses decked out in glamorous trappings offered fairgoers the ride of a lifetime.
* The Philadelphia style carousel was more realistic. The animals and horses were simple, well carved and lifelike.
* The Country Fair style carousel is the most like the carousels we see today being offered for hire for events and parties. The animals are usually just horses, they are more simply made in a sort of primitive art style. They usually have the same pose with legs positioned parallel to one another. This makes it easy to dismantle the ride and pack away the horses safely for transport.
When discussing classic carousels, there’s some terminology you may enjoy knowing. For example, carousel animals have a “romance side” and a plain side. The romance side is the more decorated side that is usually facing out. The lead horse on a carousel is the number one horse. It is the most decorated and is always found on the outside row for high visibility.
Animals other than horses are called menagerie animals. All animals can be found posed in a number of different positions. They are:
* Stander-this animal is standing with three or four feet touching the platform.
* Stargazer-this animal is looking upwards towards the stars.
* Prancer-this animal is standing on its to hind feet with its to front feet in the air.
* Jumper-this animal has all four feet raised off the carousel platform.
Unfortunately, not many of the gorgeous hand carved carousels that were created during the golden age survive today. Collecting carousel animals became very popular during the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, many of these old carousels were dismantled because it was more lucrative to their owners to sell the carousel animals one by one than to restore the entire carousel. Today there are fewer than 200 complete classic carousels in operation.
Renting a classic carousel for your party your event would be quite a feat indeed! Even if this is not possible though, you can still rent a lovely carousel ride that will convey a sense of charm, nostalgia and fun to young and old alike. Keep this history of the carousel in mind when choosing your party rides and attractions. your carousel knowledge will also help make the carousel of your choosing a real conversation piece.