This full-sized carousel, made between 1912 and 1916 by the Herschell-Spillman Company of North Tonawanda, New York, represents the heart and soul of amusement rides at the turn of the 20th Century. A familiar memento of American childhood, the State Museum is fortunate to have been able to play a role in the preservation—and continued enjoyment—of this example of American folk art and popular entertainment.
About the Carousel
The carousel originally featured forty animals, including 36 horses of three sizes and in various poses, along with two donkeys and two deer. 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 rocking carriage and a spinning “Love 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.
History of the Carousel
The carousel, operated by Sadel Brother’s Amusement Co. of Wellsville, made its debut on Memorial Day in Wellsvilee, New York. Throughout the summer months, the carousel would be transported by train to local fairs around New York's Southern Tier and into Northern Pennsylvania, and then it would be stored for the winter. By 1933, it was the main attraction at Cuba Lake's Olivecrest Amusement Park in Cuba, New York, where it operated until 1972.
Purchased by the New York State Museum in March of 1975 from Robert Hopkins of Cuba, New York, the merry-go-round remained in storage at the museum's collections facility in Rotterdam, NY, until it was fully restored and installed in its current location in the newly constructed Terrace Gallery in 2001.
Horses, Donkeys, and Deer!
The carousel’s animals actually pre-date both the machinery and platform by almost 25 years as it was not uncommon for carousel manufacturers to reuse older animals on their new structures. (Herschell-Spillman, for example, didn't start making their first jumping mechanism carousel until around 1910.) They were carved in the 1890s by Charles W.F. Dare in Brooklyn, NY, who specialized in the County Fair style of animal carving. The donkeys and deer are extremely rare and few examples of this style remain today. For this reason, the two deer original to the carousel have been removed for safekeeping as their delicately carved antlers are extremely fragile.
Our staff and historic carousel experts have been dedicated to preserving this valuable piece of state history. Most recently, the carousel underwent a series of repairs, maintenance, and upgrades including repairs to the center pole bearings, installation of new hardware to replace aging parts, and the replacement of over 700 incandescent light bulbs with new, energy efficient LED bulbs.
The New York State Museum Carousel - Timelapse of Repairs
Fun Facts: Did you know?!
- 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 Register of Historic Places and operates as the Herschell Carrousel Factory 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.