It operated in Cuba until the early 1970s when it was dismantled and eventually offered to the New York State Museum in September of 1974. The carousel was purchased in March of 1975 from Robert Hopkins of Cuba, New York. It was to be an operating centerpiece in an exhibit on popular entertainment at the new Museum. The merry-go-round was dismantled and stored in the State Museum collections facility at Rotterdam until a plan for its restoration and installation in the new Terrace Gallery was approved.
The carousel is complete and in good original condition. Its gold-painted decoration and mirrors are all intact. Its forty animals include 36 horses of three sizes and in various poses, and two deer and two donkeys. The substitution of other animals for horses was a mark of distinction among carousels, as was the Neptune's Chariot, a decoratively carved seat. A second chariot and a round tub are also on the carousel. The animals were placed on the carousel in three rows, with the largest and fanciest animals on the outside. The animals on the outside also featured inset jewels that would glitter when caught by the light. A total of fifty people could ride at one time.
Interestingly, the animals are earlier in date than the machinery and platform. Most of the horses appear to be from an Armitage Herschell Track machine from the 1890s. In addition the two donkeys and two deer appear to be of another make, possibly even earlier C.W.F. Dare or American Carousel Company. Carousel manufacturers often reused the older animals. Herschell-Spillman made their first jumping mechanism carousel around 1910.
The carousel is a symbol of an era that centered around the turn of the century, and some of the first American carousels were made and used in New York. In the 1890's there were merry-go-rounds at North Beach, Long Island, Brooklyn, and at Central Park as well as at locations throughout upstate New York. Today the Herschell-Spillman Carousel Factory in North Tonawanda, New York is on the National Resgister of Historic Places and serves as a carousel museum. Restored Herschell-Spillman carousels are now featured at such places as the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York.
A main attraction at the turn of the century, the colorful merry-go-round has never lost its appeal. Young and old alike are still enthralled with an old carousel.
Since the carousel was acquired, staff of the State Museum have been researching the history and cultural value of carousels. Large numbers of old merry-go-rounds have passed out of existence and most of the survivors are still in use at amusement parks, with a relative few owned by collectors. Only a handful of museums have acted to preserve one of these familiar mementos of virtually every American's childhood. The State Museum is fortunate to have been able to play a role in the preservation of this example of American folk art and popular entertainment.
For more information, contact Brad Utter, 3097 Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY 12230
Email: Brad.Utter@nysed.gov Phone: 518-474-0028