Location: Mid-Park at 64th St., New York
Hours: Daily April–November 10am - 6pm, weather permitting, Weekends November-April 10am - 4:30pm, weather permitting
Central Park‘s first carousel was built in 1870 and, according to Park lore, was turned by a blind mule and a horse. Whether this story is apocryphal or true, there is no question that the Carousel quickly became one of the Park‘s most popular features.
Park commissioners early on had been resistant to commercial enterprises in the Park but eventually saw public value in amusements – or intrusions, as their detractors called them. The Carousel‘s growing franchise fees to the City also confirmed the value of amusements. Soon pony and goat carts, boat and carriage rides, a photography house to take souvenir pictures, and even wheelchair rides with attendants opened up for business, along with the Carousel.
Today‘s Friedsam Memorial Carousel is the fourth carousel to exist on that site. Animal lovers will be glad to learn that around the turn of the century a steam-powered carousel replaced the animal-powered original. In 1924, however, that carousel was destroyed by fire, as was its successor in 1950.
After a long search the Parks Department discovered the present vintage Carousel, abandoned in the old trolley terminal on Coney Island. Crafted by the Brooklyn firm of Stein and Goldstein in 1908, the Carousel is one of the largest in the United States, with 58 hand-carved, painted horses. Stein and Goldstein were among the foremost carvers of their day and the horses –nearly life-size in the outer ring – are caught rearing or mid-stride with almost fierce reality.
The Carousel today still holds its magic charm, with almost 250,000 riders a year. Adults and children, who enjoy the scale of the horses and the brisk speed of the ride. During warm weather the admissions line snakes around hot dog and popcorn vendors, recalling the atmosphere of a country fair. The generations mingle and the calliope provides the traditional soundtrack.
Visitors will want to check out the wrought iron fence that surrounds the open Carousel sides; small, brightly-painted horses are depicted on a band around the fence.