If you need a little nudge to bring out your inner child, get on your riding gear and head down to "Carousel Memories: A History of the American Carousel," an exhibit that opened two weeks ago and celebrates the evolution of these carnival rides. The event takes place at the Cornell Museum at Old School Square, Delray Beach.
Jerilyn Brown, education director at Old School Square, declares the show to be perfect for holiday outings. Besides the working carousel, exhibits include antique wooden horses, vintage posters, oil paintings from the 1930s, more than 40 Dentzel miniature animal reproductions, and contemporary carvings and paintings. Gene Russo and Chuck Weiner, local carvers, hold informal discussions; samples of their work in various stages of completion are on display.
The first merry-go-round was the stuff of French aristocracy, created around 1680 as a training device for young French princes readying themselves for the ring-spearing portion of the "carrousel" tournament. The ride evolved from an upper-class gadget to an entertainment for people of all social ranks, finally hitting a peak in the 19th Century, when the bright lights and lurid colors turned the carousel into the kiddie ride we think of today.
The oldest operating platform carousel in the United States, located on Martha's Vineyard, dates from 1876. Perhaps most jaw-droppingly, carousel figures for which a master carver was paid $20 in the 1950s now reap anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000.
Despite all of this grand history, fewer than 20 carousels in the U.S. have operating brass-ring machines. Most modern rides are fiberglass replicas of antique merry-go-rounds. "Horsin' Around" in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the only school in the states where carving carousel animals is taught, the last remnant of a bygone era.