This summer New York City welcomes the traveling show Fete Paradiso to Governors Island. Along with flying swings and vintage carnival games, the interactive display of attractions from late-19th and early-20th-century Paris will feature a collection of old-school carousels, including a 19th-century bicycle carousel originally built to encourage cycling. Hop on and take a ride with through the curious history of the carousel.
Carousels date back to the Middle Ages, when knights first used them as training tolls for combat. It wasn’t until the 19th century the carousel began to appear as an amusement ride at European carnivals and fairs. The traditional carousel consisted of rows of wooded horses hanging from poles or chains from a canopy top, all held together by a central pole (there was no bottom platform). Some early carousels were human-powered, meaning a person would rotate the entire structure using either a hand crank or pull rope. Others relied on animal power. In each case, the turning of the carousel caused its horses to fly outward like a swing ride as a result of centrifugal force. This earned them the moniker of flying-horses carousels.
As carousels grew in popularity, they also grew in complexity. Designers added a platform suspended from a series of sweeps, or thick planks, radiating from atop the center pole. They put in a bearing, or hub, about halfway down the center to keep the ensemble from shifting side to side. Pole-mounted horses replaced the free-flying ones, along with a menagerie of other animals including tigers, pigs, and toads. While some animals (namely those on the carousel’s outer circumference) stood stationary, other were given the ability to move up and down—the kind of carousel setup we think of today. These animals bob courtesy a series of gears attached to the bars to which the animals are connected. As those gears roll around a stationary gear in the center of the carousels top, they move the animals up and down.
To be continued……