Chicago Tribune Carousels article

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Chicago Tribune Carousels article

Post by RLAiello » Thu May 18, 2006 9:00 am

This article appeared in the Chicago Tribune today about the resurgance of carousels in parks. It mentions the carousel at Six Flags Great America (but doesn't mention the Ameri-Go-Round, which is rumored to still be on property).

Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos are at the forefront of retro fun as hand-carved wooden merry-go-rounds make a comeback nationwide

By James Kimberly, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance reporter Denise Linke contributed to this report
Published May 18, 2006

In a world of gigantic Imax theater screens, chilling virtual reality video games and thrilling amusement park rides that plummet and pitch, toss and terrorize, a leisurely circular ride to organ music seems rather quaint.

But in looking for something new to entertain and educate, Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos have turned to something decidedly old: hand-carved wooden carousels.

The zoos join several others nationwide in believing what's old is new again, and that people are seeking simpler pleasures, generating the biggest carousel buzz in 100 years, enthusiasts say.

When Brookfield's carousel begins offering $2.50 rides May 27, the zoos will have two of the three wooden carousels in Illinois. Kiddieland Amusement Park in Melrose Park boasts a 1925 model.

Brookfield is counting on the $2 million project, including one of the largest carousels in the country, as another way to engage young people. It will feature 72 animals -- from lions to kangaroos to giraffes -- carved from basswood. Most of the animals can be found on the zoo's 216 acres.

Dr. Stuart Strahl, zoo director and president of the Chicago Zoological Society, said the merry-go-round fits perfectly with Brookfield's mission.

"There are different ways to learn about animals," Strahl said. "[One way] is to associate with an animal on a carousel and associate that with an animal in the park."

But whether for educational reasons, artistic sensibilities or nostalgia, carousels appear to be galloping back into popularity--particularly the hand-carved, finely detailed ones that ruled the ride's heyday from 1885 until 1930.

The National Carousel Association, which tracks such things, says only 150 of the almost 4,000 wood-carved carousels that were in the United States around the turn of the 20th Century still operate today.

But the decline of carousels was not due to a falloff in popularity, said Art Ritchie, a wood carver and co-owner of Carousel Works of Mansfield, Ohio, which is making the carousel for Brookfield Zoo.

"They stopped making them because they ran out of craftsmen," Ritchie said. "Now, we're back."

According to the association, 55 wood carousels have been built or refurbished in the United States and Canada since 1980; 30 have been built since 1994.

Association Vice President Jo Downey has her own theories about the low-tech ride's renewed popularity in this high-tech age.

"I wonder if it doesn't have to do with the back-to-basics that happened after Sept. 11," Downey said. "There is just something about them. They're a good stress reliever."

The carousel comeback really began in the 1990s, Downey said, about the time Navy Pier in Chicago brought back a carousel as part of its redevelopment.

"During the pier's golden age of the 1920s, there was a carousel. It harks back to the pier's rich history," said spokeswoman Marilynn Gardner.

Many carousels use characters molded from fiberglass, aluminum or some other materials, Downey said.But the growing popularity of wood-carved characters is exciting, she said.

"They're each fashioned individually. Each animal has a personality," Downey said. "They're not a mold; they are pieces of art. "You can see the expression in their faces; they look real."

The double-decker Columbia Carousel at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee with animals of molded fiberglass is a favorite of guests even though it competes with some rather intense roller coasters, said park spokesman Jim Taylor.

"It's one of the things that everybody does when they come out to the park," he said. "Carousels span generations."

The love affair with carousels remains strong for Peggy Sue and Rich Seehafer of St. Charles, enthusiasts who restore aged characters in their garage workshop.

Rich Seehafer is a part-time woodcarver and a full-time Motorola executive. Peggy Sue Seehafer is a painter and artist currently restoring a herd of fiberglass carousel horses from the 56-year-old merry-go-round at the Elk Grove Park District's Pirates Cove theme park.

She has stripped off the primary colors painted on 25 years ago and is giving them realistic coats and manes.

"When I was a little girl, I wouldn't want to ride a red horse, I would want to ride a horse-colored horse," Seehafer said. "I painted the eyes so they look real."

She said understands the resurgent popularity of the carousel.

"I've always loved carousel animals because when I was little I could pretend they were the real thing," she said. "They represent a time and a place that are very nostalgic."

Rick Aiello
SFGAm Employee 1988-1999

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Post by klemrock » Thu May 18, 2006 10:02 am

Thanks for sharing that, Rick!

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Post by redfishpaw » Fri May 19, 2006 6:49 am

I thought that Ameri-Go-Round was in storage over by superman, if anyone here plans on being at the park soon, maybe they could keep an eye open for it. I am not far from the park but I do know when I'm going to get there.

Thanks for the article Rick.

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Post by jonrev » Fri May 19, 2006 2:41 pm

The crates with Ameri-Go-Round are still by Superman as of yesterday. I doubt this is Ameri-Go-Round going to this zoo because the animals are different.
Gurnee Ride Op - 2007

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