Whether you’re 5 or 85, it’s hard to resist the call of a carousel.
Whether you’re 5 or 85, it’s hard to resist the call of a carousel. Once the organ music strikes up and the hand-painted horses begin to pump up and down, smiles and waves inevitably follow. Carousels in the United States had their heyday from the 1870s to the 1930s. Towns would place picnic grounds and amusement parks at the end of trolley lines, and the centerpiece for these play areas was always the carousel.
During the Depression, however, small amusement parks closed, and soon people gravitated toward bigger thrills provided by roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Today, there are less than 200 operating carousels left in the country, but in New England, many antique carousels are still in operation, including two of the oldest in the United States.
Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven Lighthouse Point Park was once the popular last stop on the New Haven trolley line. On any given Sunday in the 1920s, you could expect to find baseball greats Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb playing a makeshift game for their fans. Today, one vestige of these times is the Carousel at Lighthouse Point Park, whose shiny brass poles and galloping horses have worn well over the years. It was built in 1916 and it’s still in operation near the lighthouse. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rides are 50 cents each. 203-946-8327; www.cityofnewhaven.com.
Flying Horse Carousel, Watch Hill Built in 1867, Flying Horse Carousel is the oldest merry-go-round in the country. Word has it that in 1979, a traveling carnival was forced to abandon the ride in this vacation spot. Horses on this wild ride hang from chains overhead and fly out over a dirt floor. The tails and manes are made of real horse hair and the saddles are genuine leather. Open June 15 to Labor Day. Rides are $1 each (12 years and older). 401-596-7761; www.visitri.com.
Flying Horses Carousel, Oak Bluffs Flying Horses Carousel is a Martha’s Vineyard treasure and a National Historic Landmark. Handcrafted in 1876, the horses have authentic hair and glass eyes, yet the real joy is the chance to snag a brass ring. Open Easter Saturday to Columbus Day. Rides are $1.50 each. 508-693-9481; www.mvpreservation.org/carousel.
Canobie Lake Park, Salem This merry-go-round, which dates back to 1903, still spins in its original setting at Canobie Lake Park. New thrill rides have since been built up and around this nostalgic carousel, but its horses, deer and goats continue to charm the youngest generations. Open late April to late September. An all-day cost of $27 includes all rides ($18 if under 48 inches). 603-893-3506; www.canobie.com.