Take a whirl on New York City’s carousels
Plenty of images and sensations come to mind when you think of New York City: skyscrapers, pigeons and the smell of hot dogs on a street corner. However, the Big Apple has another distinction woven into the fabric of the city which is less well-known: carousels.
New York City is home to more than a dozen merry-go-rounds, more than any other location in the country. That includes Binghamton, New York, which calls itself the carousel capital of the world.
“The thing about New York City is that the carousels there are so diverse,” explains Patrick Wentzel, president and census chairman of the National Carousel Association. “You have such a great selection there that somebody traveling to New York City can see really all the major [carousel] manufacturers right there. That’s pretty unique.”
Five merry-go-rounds in NYC are more than a century old, and they represent many styles, reflecting the city’s changes in architecture and technology. (And if you’re wondering, a carousel and a merry-go-round are the same thing, Wentzel tells CNN Travel.)
They are located across all five of the city’s boroughs, everywhere from local parks to world-renowned tourist destinations.
So come on, take a whirl next time you travel here:
Coney Island style
The beachfront community of Coney Island is known worldwide for its thrill rides, fair foods and beaches. And it should also be known for its storied history in carousel-building.
“New York City has long been a carousel ‘headquarters’ and Coney Island was sort of that headquarters in Brooklyn,” according to Christopher Heywood, senior vice president, global communications, for NYC & Company, the city’s tourism board.
Today, the B&B Carousell is the last remaining merry-go-round at Coney Island — but at one point in history two dozen carousels operated there.
In fact, Coney Island even developed its own style of carousel design: The “Coney Island style” featured flashy, highly decorated horses covered in jewels, mirrors and gold or silver leaf, which greatly differed from the more natural-looking “Philadelphia style.”
Located in Luna Park, which is Coney Island’s boardwalk amusement park, the B&B Carousell was built in 1906. It received replacement horses in the 1920s, and from 2008 to 2013, these wooden horses underwent a makeover. Under the care of a professional carousel restorer, they got a spruce-up with new paint, tails, stirrups and, in some cases, joints.
Visitors will want to make special note of the Illions horse, created by one of the great carousel artists, Marcus Illions, in the early 1900s. “His” horse is covered in orange, red and blue rhinestones and a large profile of President Abraham Lincoln, a nod to the 1909 centennial of his birth.
B&B Carousell, 1615 Riegelmann Boardwalk, Brooklyn, NY 11224, +1 (718) 373-5862
Other Brooklyn carousels
The B&B Carousell is far from the only carousel in Brooklyn. Commuters and tourists alike delight in spotting Jane’s Carousel, located on the waterfront in DUMBO and visible from the bridges, ferries and helicopters.
Native to Youngstown, Ohio, this carousel was built in 1922 by the renowned Philadelphia Toboggan Company and “moved” to New York City (like many a youngster with a dream in her heart!).
It debuted in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which sits alongside the East River, in 2011. The name Jane is a nod to its patron and DUMBO resident Jane Walentas, who spearheaded the merry-go-round’s restoration.
Most notably, Jane’s Carousel sits inside an enormous glass box, called the jewel box, to protect it from the elements (including flooding during Hurricane Sandy). Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the clear glass walls make the merry-go-round’s 48 carved horses and two chariots visible at any time.
A third carousel in Brooklyn is the Prospect Park Carousel, originally carved at Coney Island and has lived in Prospect Park since 1952. More than just horses are waiting to be ridden on this merry-go-round: Take your pick of a giraffe, a lion, a deer and two dragon-pulled chariots. Prospect Park Carousel also has the distinction of being wheelchair-accessible.
Jane’s Carousel, Old Dock St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, +1 (718) 222-2502
Prospect Park Carousel, 95 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11225, +1 (718) 965-8951
New Yorkers aren’t too happy when they find bugs in their apartments. But at the Bronx Zoo, they’re happy to ride them. Hop on a grasshopper, praying mantis or a dung beetle on the zoo’s Bug Carousel, the only merry-go-round in the borough. Like Prospect Park Carousel, this one’s wheelchair-accessible.
Bug Carousel at the Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460, +1 (718) 367-1010
Despite Brooklyn’s historical connection to carousel-building, it is the borough of Manhattan where the majority of the city’s merry-go-rounds reside.
The city’s newest and most unusual-looking carousel is the SeaGlass Carousel, where, rather than riding atop horses, guests bob about on giant pastel fish. The 30 fiberglass fish are meant to mimic bioluminescence in the aquatic world and color-changing light displays on the interior of the ride promise a wondrous — some might say trippy — experience.
SeaGlass is located in Battery Park, on the southernmost tip of the island, in the former location of the New York Aquarium (which closed at that location in 1941 and is now, coincidentally, located on Coney Island). “The SeaGlass Carousel is an ode to [the aquarium’s] original headquarters with the fish,” explains Heywood.
What is most unique about Sea Glass is the lack of a central pole around which all the creatures circulate. Instead, the fish on his merry-go-round — which include betta fish, angelfish and Siamese fighting fish, among others — travel in four patterns.
A second merry-go-round in Manhattan is Le Carrousel in Bryant Park, located in the rear of the New York Public Library in Midtown.
Done in the French classical style, the 14 animals (including a frog, a cat, a deer and a rabbit) on this merry-go-round circulate to French cabaret music. One special beast to look out for is Granny’s Folly, a gray police horse who once caught a purse snatcher outside a Michael Jackson concert by stepping on his foot. According to The New York Times, the real-life Granny’s Folly had to be put down in 1992 after he was hit by a cab on Pelham Parkway, so he lives on, riding forever on Le Carrousel.
Meanwhile, the Pier 62 Carousel is in Hudson River Park in the West Side neighborhood of Chelsea. The ride has been custom-designed with Hudson River animals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, foxes, turkeys and ducks.
For some, a trip to Central Park would not be complete without a ride on Friedsam Memorial Carousel, located near 64th Street. The Friedsam features a whopping 57 animals, making it one of the largest carousels in the United States. It’s actually the fourth merry-go-round in the park since 1871.
According to the Central Park Conservancy, it’s said that the first carousel was powered by a mule or horse in a hidden compartment under the attraction, while the next two carousels were steam-powered and were both destroyed by fire. The vintage parts of this current merry-go-round were discovered abandoned in an old trolley terminal in Coney Island and restored.
SeaGlass Carousel, Water St & State St, New York, NY 10004, +1 (212) 344-3491
Le Carrousel at Bryant Park, between 41-42nd Sts and 5th and 6th Avenues, New York, NY, 10018, +1 (212) 768-4242
Carousel at Pier 62, West 22nd St, Chelsea Piers, New York, NY 10011, +1 (718) 788-2676
Friedsam Memorial Carousel, 1802 65th St Transverse, New York, NY 10065, +1 (212) 439-6900
Manhattan has Central Park, Brooklyn has Prospect Park, and Queens has Forest Park — a large green space which just so happens to have a carousel.
As the only carousel with New York City Landmark status since 2013, the Forest Park Carousel is truly special. It is one of the last surviving carousels made by designer Daniel Muller of D.C. Muller and Brothers, whose work was in the naturalistic “Philadelphia style” of carousel animals.
“There’s only two of those left in the world,” explained Wentzel of Muller’s carousel designs. “Forest Park is just a very, very nice and very elaborately carved carousel. The horses and the animals are very spectacular.”
The ride features 52 animals — 49 horses, a deer, a lion and a tiger — as well as two chariots.
The other carousel in Queens is the Flushing Meadows Carousel, located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
This merry-go-round is made from pieces from two machines from Coney Island: the Feltman’s Carousel, originally opened in 1903, and the Stubbman Beer Gardens Carousel, which opened in 1908 and is another example of Marcus Illions’ work. You’ll find 71 horses, one lion and two chariots.
But more importantly, you’ll find history. Though the Flushing Meadows Carousel didn’t open until the ’60s, its pieces from the Feltman’s Carousel technically make it the oldest carousel in the city.
Forest Park Carousel, Forest Park Dr, Woodhaven, NY 11421, +1 (718) 788-2676
Flushing Meadows Carousel, 111th St and 55th Ave, Corona, NY 11368
Staten Island is home to one carousel as well: The Carousel for All Children, located in Willowbrook Park.
This merry-go-round was built between 1997 and 1999 in Ohio and, although relatively new, is meant to invoke the Victorian style.
In addition to 40 hand-painted panels depicting Staten Island landmarks, it features one of the widest arrays of animals in the city, including pandas, gorillas, giraffes, zebras, and a leopard. It’s also wheelchair-accessible.
The Carousel for All Children, 2 Eton Pl, Staten Island, NY, 10314, +1 (718) 477-0605