Thursday, March 20, 2014

Did You Know? Carousel Trivia Part 1

One of the pleasures of being a writer is doing research, and the research for "One Little Word," my novella in the Sincerely Yours collection, was particularly enjoyable.  I deliberately made my hero a carousel carver, because that gave me the excuse to visit a number of historic carousels and carousel-related museums.

Although I've included some carousel lore in the story itself, there were many more fascinating (at least to me) facts that I couldn't include, so I thought I'd share some of them with you in this and two more blogs.  I'm going to ask -- and answer -- a few questions.

1.  Did you know that there are three basic styles of carousel animals? 

My favorite and the most elaborate is known as Coney Island.  Yes, as you probably guessed, the carvers who developed this style worked on New York's Coney Island.
Coney Island horses feature gilding, jewels and, in general, a more fanciful design than the other two styles.  This particular horse was carved by Illions, considered by many (including me) to be one of the finest Coney Island carvers.

In contrast, the Philadelphia style is more realistic.  You won't see jewels or gold on these animals, because you wouldn't see that in nature.  Instead, these animals look like ones you might actually find on a farm or perhaps a racecourse.  Some even have real horse hair tails.

The third style is called County or Country Fair.  As the name implies, these horses were designed to be ridden at county fairs.  They tend to be simpler in design than either Coney Island or Philadelphia, largely because they were transported from place to place. 
If you look closely at this horse, you'll see that his ears don't extend beyond the top of his mane, and that his legs are shorter and sturdier than either Coney Island or Philadelphia style horses'.  All this is for practical reasons.  Long, slender legs might be beautiful, but they were far more likely to be broken when they were loaded into and out of wagons.

2.  What is a menagerie?

Although my dictionary has a number of definitions, in carousel terms, a menagerie is simply one that has animals other than horses.
The first carousels featured only horses, but as carvers sought new challenges and the carousel owners sought new ways to attract riders, carvers expanded their repertoire.

There'll be more trivia tomorrow.  In the meantime, if you're intrigued by the idea of a carousel carver as a hero, here are buying links to Sincerely Yours.  You'll find four novellas in the book, each featuring a different era in American history.  The other stories were written by Jane Kirkpatrick, Ann Shorey and Laurie Alice Eakes.  If you've read any of their books, you know what wonderful storytellers they are.  And if you haven't read them, here's a chance to sample their work.

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  1. Have you seen the carousel at Lark Toys in Kellogg, MN? It has a fascinating story.

    1. I hadn't heard of this, but I just checked their web site and was impressed. What a wonderful carousel! I've added it to my "must visit" list. Thanks.