Friday, August 5, 2016

Unique Merry-Go-Rounds

One of the mainstays of any playground is a merry-go-round which is simply a revolving platform balancing on some type of pedestal. I was delighted then when my research uncovered a myriad of images showing unique merry-go-rounds in all sizes, showing both genders in a range of ages. 

To start, I thought it interesting that the following stereograph from 1873 Philadelphia was entitled, "Whirligig in Shutzen Park", because to me a whirligig is one of those yard art curiosities that twirl or spin in the wind. Calling this merry-go-round a whirligig may have been a case of regional phrasing.

Stereograph: Whirligig in Sh├╝tzen Park, Philadelphia, Pa., Sep. 1873. William Bell. Library of Congress Control Number 2005691149

Folk festival at New Year's (celebrating New Year [Persian]). Carousel (carousel 
[Persian]) between 1865 and 1872. Library of Congress Control Number 2007682933

History books report the first carousel or merry-go-round depiction is a Byzantine bas-relief of a carousel using baskets back in 500 A.D. 

I thought it quite apt then when I found this image taken between 1865 and 1872 of Persian children on a carousel. If you look a bit to the right of center, you'll see an adult male with two ropes. I believe he is wearing a type of harness and hand-powering the carousel by walking along the inside and pulling the ropes much like animal-driven water pumps, windmills, grinding wheels, etc were turned. 

The caption with this one says it's a Folk festival celebrating the Persian New Year so it doesn't sound like the children had permanent access to the ride. 

This next undated photo looks like a great way to recycle a wagon wheel and shows the ingenuity some parents use to make childhood fun for their kids. We can't see how the wagon wheel is balancing, and I'm not sure how long this will last with kids - especially boys - playing on it, but I'm sure they had great fun while it lasted.

Homemade merry-go-round. Undated. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum on Flikr has some great glass negatives showing circus and amusement rides taken in the northeast part of England. I was delighted to find this undated gem of a carousel ride and worker. I wonder what her job entailed. 

Carousel ride and worker, undated. Courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Here's an action shot of a 1920's "Electric Water Merry-Go-Round Ride". I've ridden a chair swing carousel before, but this one looks more fun . . . probably because I'd rather splash in the water than splat on the sidewalk in case something goes wrong. I'd love to know how many times you get dunked per turn. 

Photo: Chicago – Wilson Ave Beach – Electric Water Merry-Go-Round Ride – Group Of Men – 1920s. Courtesy of

This next blue-tinted image from the Sir Henry Wellcome Collection, 1856 - 1936 located in the National Archives and Records Administration Pacific Alaska Region shows two well-dressed men and one in a uniform sitting on a merry-go-round. I don't know if it's a publicity shot or if the men were caught in an unguarded moment, but it looks like a fun ride in any case.

Post card, Blue-tint. Left to right: Dr. Minthorn, ?, William Duncan on merry-go-round, Metlakahtla, Alaska. Creator Wellcome, Henry S. (Henry Solomon), Sir, 1853-1936. Courtesy of NARA's Pacific Alaska Region (Anchorage)

Speaking of hand-powered merry-go-rounds, this next one taken in 1906 at Luna Park, Rexford, NY is a whopper. I found it in a book called, Images of America - Clifton Park by John L. Scherer, 1996 Arcadia Publishing. It's a wonderful pictorial book showing life, fashion, vehicles, etc, in America. Most appreciative is that each photograph is dated. You can check it out here.

Amusement Park Ride, Luna Park, Rexford, c 1906. Images of America - Clifton Park, John L Scherer

The merry-go-round pictured above appears to be hand-powered by the man on the right wearing the white shirt since you can see him with a rope, but how does it work? Does he run alongside while pulling it? Is someone on the other side as well? Or is he only in charge of raising and lowering the mammoth merry-go-round while something else powers it? 

The merry-go-round I remember the most from my childhood had a flat metal surface and 6 bars that intersected in the middle. You hung on at the edge where each bar ended, in the middle where they met at a center pole, and however you could grab a hold of the bars themselves. I remember hanging onto an overhead bar for dear life once when I had no choice but to sit halfway between the center and the edge. That time wasn't fun. It's a wonder kids didn't get hurt as there was nothing to stop us from flying off and the town kept the gears well greased. 

What about you? Care to share a merry-go-round memory?


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yields fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, and The American Heiress Brides Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience. Discover more at:
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  1. What fun pictures, Anita! Very interesting to see those old carousels.

  2. What fun pictures, Anita! Very interesting to see those old carousels.

  3. My first merry go round memory is from when I was about 5 years old. The Buckroe Beach Amusement Park in Hampton, VA had a merry go round. I loved riding that and enjoyed going to that park. Years after the park was torn down, my sister found a group that was restoring some of the old horses from the ride. Now, there is a smaller version that has been restored and is available for the public. Thank you for reminding me of those special times.

  4. These pictures are awesome! Wow, it's been so long since I've even seen a merry go round like I used to ride. I don't know how I survived some of those turns. LOL Today, whenever I see a merry go round...the kind with horses...I get dizzy. Carnival rides are NOT for me. As far as playgrounds go, my go-to fun was on the tall slides.

  5. You're very welcome, Melissa. That's very interesting about finding the group who was restoring some of the old horses. That really makes the ride special when you can bring the next generations to see what you did as a child. I've heard of a few of these groups who work with volunteers who fundraise for such a ride. As a thank you, some of them allow you to name or sponsor the horses/animals. I've always thought that was a great way to pass a multi-generational "toy" to your descendants.

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa.

  6. Thanks, chappydebbie! I get dizzy on the small, tight merry-go-rounds - the personal-size ones that you find in a teacup at Disneyworld, or in a strawberry at some amusement parks. The ones with the center wheel that everyone leans into and grabs a hold of, where your arms all criss-cross as you spin around. I didn't go too fast in the teacup, but the strawberry at Calaway Park outside of Calgary almost did me in. Love those, however. :D

    As for the slides... I have a post coming up about them, too. Not sure if it's what you'd call tall, but quite scary to my eyes. Remember... safety wasn't much of a factor way back when. Stay tuned. :)

  7. A very interesting and unique post. I enjoyed seeing the older pictures of the various merry-go-rounds. I had the pleasure of riding one recently with a younger family member. What memories it triggered. Thank you for haring, Melissa. This is a great blog to learn new historical information.

    1. Thanks for sharing, too, Marilyn. We appreciate you stopping in and letting us know. :)