The NCA Primitive Carousel (part 1 of 2)
NCA Purchases Primitive Flying Horses
Carousel May Be America's Oldest
The National Carousel Association has been working hard over the past few months to save a rare "Flying Horses carousel. Due to time and dollar constraints, and because it was necessary in order to save it, we ended up buying the carousel; it will ultimately be on display at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, Kans.
The Long Island Heritage Museum had previously purchased the primitive carousel, for use at its recreated 1860s village. However, after examining the carousel, the museum determined it would be inappropriate to subject this rare piece to constant use and made a duplicate of the carousel for the village. The original carousel has been on display at the museum.
A photograph of this carousel can be seen in Painted Ponies, by William Manns, Peggy Shank, and Marianne Stevens, on page 18. The duplicate was used this summer in the Disney movie, Beloved, starring Whoopi Goldberg.
The carousel has 12 very primitive horses and two chariots. The horses' bodies and heads are quite simple, with leather ears and horsehair tails and manes. The legs appear to be well carved in a rocking-horse style. The chariots have open-style benches, and they all hang from a very simple frame by swinging rods.
Photos of the 12 horses and the primitive carousel are included in the NCA Photo Show for this carousel. Although its actual age is not known, several sources guess that the carousel may be the oldest in the country.
Although some estimate that it was carved in the 1860s, no one knows the exact age of this carousel. It is known that it operated in Gwynne Oaks Park, in Baltimore, in the early 1930s, when the photograph on page 7 was taken, and it is reported to have been at the same location at the end of the 19th century. No matter how old it really is, it is probably the last remaining intact carousel of this primitive type.
How did the NCA come by this rare treasure? During 1996/1997, the Nassau County Museum asked the NCA to help it find a museum buyer for its primitive carousel. The NCA board of directors consulted with carousel expert Barbara Charles, who was familiar with the carousel. In her opinion, the carousel was "priceless and irreplaceable."
We contacted all of the folk art and carousel museums we knew of. The First City Museum in Leavenworth expressed a strong interest, but it was unable to allocate enough funds to meet the asking price.
In June 1997, Brian and Elinor Morgan saw an announcement that a primitive carousel was to be sold at auction (shortly before the NCA convention) and became concerned about losing this rare carousel. After contacting the auctioneer and determining that it was the Long Island Carousel that was up for auction, they determined to save it, even if they had to buy it themselves. However, they also learned that the carousel had a very high reserve at the auction and did not believe it would sell at that price.
Brian contacted the NCA board members and a few other NCA members in an attempt to raise the funds. A small group of people committed a combination of loans and contributions, enough that Brian was able to send a letter offering to buy the carousel from the Nassau County Museum for the NCA, should it not sell at auction. The letter was sent in the hope that the museum would not be tempted to sell the carousel piecemeal.
At the convention, we learned that the carousel had not sold at the auction, and the NCA board voted to continue its efforts to save the carousel.
of Pennsylvania, who had worked with the museum before, offered to contact
it on our behalf and to continue to work with Brian, as well as with Jerry
Kessler at the museum. The museum also was interested in preserving the
carousel and finally approved the sale to the NCA at a price close to
its original cost.
The NCA thanks the Friends of Long Island Heritage and Jerry Kessler for agreeing to sell the carousel to the NCA at little more than their cost; the Friends were hoping to find an appropriate home that would continue to display the carousel.
We also thank NCA member Ken Weaver for his efforts.
Finally, the NCA thanks the following, who through their sizable contributions and loan commitments raised the funds to buy the carousel: Barbara Charles and Bob Staples, Charles Jr. and Betty Jacques, Rol and Jo Summit, Tom and Kay VanSant, Brian and Elinor Morgan.
The NCA has gratefully accepted these contributions and welcomes any other NCA member, carousel enthusiast, or carousel organization to contribute toward the cost of the carousel.
Further details about the carousel and its history were featured in the Winter 1997 edition of the Merry-Go-Roundup, issue 24-4.