Nothing quite says summer has arrived like our first ride of the season on the Looff Carousel at Crescent Park. This year as we sat outside the pavilion enjoying a frozen lemonade and reveling in the thrill of our first ride, I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind this Rhode Island treasure.
I did a little bit of digging to find out that our local carousels play a significant role in carousel history. Four of the area’s carousels were made during the golden age of carousel art, and a reproduction at Roger Williams Park pays homage to the great carousel builders of the nineteenth century.
There are plenty of fun facts to share with your kids during your next visit to a local carousel. Not only will they enjoy the ride, they will also be able to learn about Rhode Island’s history. And if they’re lucky, they may just get the brass ring!
Crescent Park Looff Carousel
End of Bullock’s Point Avenue, East Providence, RI
(401) 435-7518 or (401) 433-2828
Cost: $1 per ride
Summer hours: Open Thursday — Sunday, Noon — 8pm
Off season hours: Open Friday 4pm — 8pm, Sat & Sun Noon — 8pm
The Crescent Park Carousel was made in 1895 by Charles I. D. Looff, one of the world’s foremost carousel makers and producer of Coney Island’s first merry-go-round. Looff moved his factory from New York to East Providence and designed the Crescent Park carousel as a showcase for prospective clients. As a result, no two figures are alike and each horse is designed to complement the next.
Historians consider this carousel a treasure of American folk art and a museum to the work of Looff. The carousel is a National Historic Site and was proclaimed the Rhode Island Symbol of Folk Art in 1985.
Make it a daytrip: A beach, a park, and a carousel
Flying Horse Carousel, Watch Hill
Bay Street, Watch Hill, RI
Hours of Operation: Open weekends only until June 18. Open every day during the summer.
The Flying Horse Carousel is believed to be the oldest carousel of its type in America. The design of the carousel is unique in that its horses are not attached to the floor, but hang by chains suspended from overhead. The horses appear to fly as the carousel increases in speed, hence the name “Flying Horse Carousel.”
Of all of the carousels in Rhode Island, the Flying Horse certainly has the most dramatic history. The carousel was built sometime between 1867 and 1876 and was part of a traveling carnival until 1879, when the carnival was forced to abandon the carousel in Watch Hill. The carousel was originally drawn from place to place by a horse, and legend has it that this horse was so faithful to the carousel that when he died, his tail was cured and inset onto one of the carousel horses as a permanent memorial.
Note: Riders are limited to children under 12 years of age.
Slater Memorial Park Carousel
Route 1A, Pawtucket, RI
(401) 728-0500, x 252
Hours of Operation: Closed for the 2008 summer season for extensive renovation. Will reopen around Labor Day weekend
Another Looff design, this carousel was built between 1880 and 1890. Although the original location is unknown, it was purchased by carousel concessionaire John Walker and moved to Slater Park in 1910. Historians claim this is the fastest Looff carousel ever made.
All but one of the hand-carved horses are original, and all have genuine horsehair tails. Worth noting: look for the man in the derby hat painted on the center of the carousel–it’s a portrait of Charles Looff himself.
The surrounding structure houses an antique ice cream truck which was operated by Americo Pierini in 1906. Another bit of Rhode Island trivia: the truck’s lettering misspells his name “Peirini.”
Carousel Village, Roger Williams Park (Website)
100 Elmwood Drive, Providence, RI
(401) 785-9450 ext. 261
Cost: $1 per ride
Hours of Operation: Open daily from 10 am — 5pm
Although this carousel is actually a reproduction built in 1989, it is worth marveling over.
The carousel is made up of fiberglass reproductions of designs by the masters of carousel art, including the “Looff Lion,” a jumping rabbit based on a signature design by Gustav Dentzel, and scenery panels, including one which displays a portrait of Dentzel. Each of the sixty carousel animals took over 100 hours to paint and detail!
Carousel at Battleship Cove (Website)
5 Water Street, Fall River, MA
Cost: $1 per ride
Summer Hours: Open seven days a week from 11am — 5pm.
Off season hours: Open weekends only from 11am — 5pm.
Growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, I have fond memories of summer days spent at Lincoln Amusement Park in North Dartmouth. Although Lincoln Park closed over a decade ago, I was thrilled to learn that its historic carousel, which operated in the park for seventy years, had been restored and moved to Battleship Cove.
Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1920, the carousel is made up of forty-eight horses, two multi-passenger chariots, and a Wurlitzer band organ. It sits in a gorgeous Victorian-style pavilion overlooking Heritage Park and Mt. Hope Bay.
Easton’s Beach Carousel
175 Memorial Boulevard, Newport, RI
Cost: $1 per ride
Summer Hours: Open seven days a week from 11am — 6pm.
Off season hours: Open weekends only from 11am — 6pm.
The Easton’s Beach Carousel was built in 1952 by the Allan Herschell Company. The Herschell Company was a major influence in the development of amusement park rides, pioneering the “Kiddie Land” concept and producing adult thrill rides like the Twister and a ninety-foot double Ferris wheel.
In addition to the carousel, Easton’s Beach is the home of the Save The Bay Exploration Center. The Center houses fourteen tanks and exhibits and over 150 species of animals from Narragansett Bay.
Between the carousel, the Exploration Center, sand, and surf, there’s something for everyone at Easton’s Beach.
Carousel at Emerald Square Mall
(Located in the Food Court on the 3rd floor near Macy’s)
# 999 S Washington St, North Attleboro, MA
Cost: $2 per ride or 6 tickets for $10
Hours of Operation: Same hours as the mall. Monday — Friday from 10am — 9:30pm; Sunday from 11am — 6pm.
This might not be a vintage carousel, but when you’re looking to escape the summer heat, Emerald Square provides you with a great alternative (and air-conditioned) activity. Enjoy a carousel ride and have lunch in the food court, a double crowd pleaser!
Photo Credit: Jaci Arnone. Kids in line for the Crescent Park Looff Carousel in Riverside.