Carousel Columbia history

The following text is from a 1976 Marriott’s GREAT AMERICA press release.

Contact: Bruce W. Burtch
Public Affairs Manager

Writer: John Poimiroo


Santa Clara, Calif. — A splash of color and light turns round and round to the reminiscent strains of a calliope, while a 100 foot high, gold and white, tent-like palace is silhouetted before a reflecting pool.

This is the noblest and newest of the world’s grand carousels, “The Columbia.”

This massive multi-colored, ornate gazebo is the center attraction to guests entering Marriott’s GREAT AMERICA ® in Santa Clara, Calif. The Columbia is more than just the world’s finest, most expensive ($1.5 million), largest double-decked merry-go-round; it is a tribute to American craftsmanship, both past and present, and an impressive return to the days of elegance.

It stands within the front gates of GREAT AMERICA, ten stories high, over 100 prancing horses strong, and surrounded by gardens overflowing with blossoms.

Figures on the carousel dance around on shining brass rods, their snarling faces frozen still. Each of the figures on The Columbia are fiberglass replicas of the world’s rarest carousel horses and animals.

There are cavalry style horses, famous Parker horses and rare Dentzel horses with their manes flying in the wind. (Gustav A. Dentzel has been called “The Father of American Carousels” and his carousel figures are considered the finest ever made.)

In all, 82 jumping horses, six standing horses, three chariots, a camel, a giraffe, lion, tiger, dragon, deer, seahorse and pairs of jumping ostriches, pigs, cats and rabbits ride The Columbia.

Perhaps best known of these figures is the “Silver Anniversary Horse” which appeared in 1928 to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (one of the finest carousel and roller coaster producers in the United States.)

This armoured horse won first prize for best exhibit at the Chicago Amusement Park Convention in 1928. Today, the original horse is displayed at the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota, Florida.

Daniel Carl Muller, who is regarded as the greatest of the carousel carvers of the late 19th and early 20th century, designed the chariots on The Columbia.

They were carved in 1918, as World War I was coming to a close. Muller used the chariot to symbolize the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. These chariots show the goddess of freedom, “Columbia” enveloped in a furled American flag with an olive branch in her right hand. Her left hand is extended toward the rising sun.

His composition was symbolic of post World War I America offering her hand to the sufferers of war and the dawn of a new age of peace.

Craftsmanship detailed on The Columbia is not only found in yesteryear’s carousel figures, but also in the baroque scrollwork surrounding the carousel. Chris Mueller (no relation to the famous carousel carver, Muller) crafted intricate sculptural acanthus sprays, reflective shields, shells, scrolls, and columns to give the exterior of this carousel a most historic appearance.

Mueller is a one-of-a-kind craftsman for a one-of-a-kind attraction. His background reads like a who’s who of American architecture. Mueller has designed architectural embellishments for such landmarks as: the Palace of Fine Arts, the Mission Dolores Basilica, Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Golden Gate International Exposition, the French Gothic fairytale castle at Disney World, and the famous Fox Theater which stood in San Francisco.

This is just a short list of Mueller’s many credits. His sculpture has added grace to numerous other famous buildings and he gained considerable fame for his sculptural talents during a long Hollywood motion picture career.

At GREAT AMERICA, Mueller brought his skills to the graceful arches, elaborate leafy scrollwork and meticulous detail of The Columbia. The carousel stands as a reminder of the past, but also as a vivid example of the continuing beauty of American crafts.

Mueller may have embellished The Columbia with his love of the fading art of architectural sculpture, but he was not alone. Original inspiration for The Columbia came from Randall Duell Associates, architects and designers of this new family entertainment park. And, hundreds of other workers, carpenters, metal workers, painters, architects, draftsmen, and mechanical technicians also dedicated themselves to this splendid carousel.

The carousel’s pinnacle was once an ornate pot bellied stove in the movie “Marie Antoinette,” while caps to the columns on the carousel come from an MGM film starring Grace Kelly, titled “The Swan.”

To the children who ride round and round inside The Columbia, the historical significance of this beautiful structure may mean little, but no doubt it will always remain a precious memory to have ridden on the grandest carousel ever built.

Go to the Carousel Columbia photo album.

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