Binghamton, New York
2003 National Carousel Association &
American Carousel Society Convention
By Dennis D. Towndrow

On September 16 - 20, 2003 Upstate New York showcased nine carousels and two carousel art exhibits, to some 150 NCA & ACS convention participants.  Thus giving us yet another opportunity to soak up all these magnificent art pieces have to offer.
 

Day 1
The festivities started with a reception at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, NY.  As individuals arrived, they were greeted with a band organ demonstration that provided magnificent welcoming music, that we so often associate with merry-go-rounds.   Inside, participants found not only tasty appetizers and the opportunity to catch up with old friends, but a beautiful carousel art exhibit as well.  Several figures are from the renowned collection of the late Charlotte Dinger, author of Art of the Carousel.  In addition to this special collection, there is a display of various carousel artifacts that demonstrate the process of constructing, carving, and painting carousel figures.  The intent of the exhibit is to give visitors a broader understanding and appreciation for the Greater Binghamton Area’s six Allan Herschell carousels.

That's right -- there are six antique carousels in Broome County alone.  That is more than any other county in the United States.  Which is why it is considered the “Carousel Capital of the World.”  But even more amazing, is that rides on all six merry-go-rounds are free.  And that is exactly what industrial leader, George E. Johnson, of Endicott-Johnson Shoes wanted when he donated the Allan Herschell machines to the community over eight decades ago.

Day 2
After dividing the conference into two groups, half of us started our Broome County tour with a visit to the Allan Herschell carousel in West Endicott Park.  With everyone gathered around the carousel building, we witnessed an inspiring plaque presentation, took pictures and climbed aboard our favorite animal for a long awaited ride. 
This particular Herschell was installed at West Endicott Park in 1929 and features 2 Baroque Chariots, 36 animals (3-abreast), including a pig/boar and one dog.  This carousel can be identified by it's colored (rather that white) lights on the "sweeps" and "rounding boards."

Operating times are: Memorial Day to Labor day, 11 am - 5 pm, and 5:30 pm - 8 pm.  Admission is Free.  (607) 786-2970.

After leaving West Endicott Park we headed straight for Highland Park in Endwell, for lunch, more presentations, picture taking and rides.
The Highland Park carousel again consists of 2 chariots, 36 animals (3-abreast), including a pig/boar and one dog.

The carousel was originally installed in 1925 at En-Joie Park in Endicott and later moved to Highland Park.  It is the only area carousel that has ever been relocated. 

Operating times are: Memorial Day to Labor day, 11 am - 5 pm, and 5:30 pm - 8 pm.  Admission is Free.  (607) 786-2970.

Next we were off to see the third and final carousel of the day.  Once again, we only had to travel a short distance before we arrived back in Endicott and the George W. Johnson Park.  However, this time we had the luxury of having more time for picture taking and rides, as presentations were given during the morning session.
The G. W. Johnson Park carousel was installed in 1934 and was historically restored during the 1993-1994 season. 

It also consists of 2 chariots and 36 animals (3-abreast).  But this time there were only horses to hold our attention.  It seems the boar and dog decided to skipped town.

Operating times are: Memorial Day to Labor day, 10 am - 8 pm.  Admission is Free.  (607) 757-2427.

After having completed a full schedule of “chasing merry-go-rounds,” we headed back to our hotel for a reception and shopping time at the “Round-About-Faire.”  Then it was off to bed to prepare for a very early morning start and long day of... you guessed it, presentations, picture taking and rides at three more carousels.  Only this time we would have to travel a much longer distance to find them. 
Day 3
Well..., if I were to cut to the chase right now, you would know the wake up call came way too early, the breakfast pizza was far too cold, the bus breakdown on the highway was a bummer, and the ride back to the hotel was too noisy to sleep through.  But of course, then I would be leaving out all the cool stuff that made it all worth it.  Such as, the beautiful New York State Museum carousel in Albany.

This c.1915 Herschell-Spillman has thirty-six horses (3-abreast), two deer, and two donkeys.  It also has a rocking chariot, love tub, and Neptune chariot.  The animals are by Charles Dare and were carved between 1895 and 1900.  The remainder of the carousel was made by the Herschell-Spillman company sometime between 1912 and 1916. 

After traveling around the Upstate New York area the carousel came to rest here at the State Museum in 1975.  In 2000 the original model 125 Wurlitzer band organ was recaptured (after being missing since 1956) and was placed there also. 

The carousel was restored by Brass Ring Entertainment of Sun Valley, California in 2001.

Operating times are: Daily, 10 am - 4:30 pm.  (518) 402-5869.

Next we were off to Saratoga Springs to grab some grub at an area Holiday Inn.  Afterward, we headed to Congress Park for the plaque ceremony, pictures and rides.  The carousel we were about to see, was the only non-Herschell machine of the entire nine piece lot.
This is a wonderfully restored 1904 Illions.  It is comprised of 28 horses and 2 chariots and was carved in Brooklyn, New York by Marcus C. Illions and assembled on a Mangels mechanism.  The carousel never left the state and spent the majority of its time thus far in the Saratoga Springs area.

For operating times call: (518) 587-3241.

Before we knew it, it was time for another bus ride to the third and final carousel stop of the day.  But before we could leave town we needed to make a very worthwhile visit to the National Museum of Horse Racing and photo stop in front of a Seabiscuit bronze statue.  Once on the road again, we encountered a big surprise as our bus sprang a leak in the radiator and we ended up hitching rides with the other buses.  But even with our unexpected delay, we still made it in time for a fantastic roast beef dinner at the Schenevus VFW.  After dinner, the sun was just beginning to disappear behind the horizon.  The cool fall weather, colorful lights and joyful merry-go-round music coming from the small town park across the way, created a very nostalgic feeling that night. 

The Schenevus Firemans' carousel is located in the S/E corner of the village park.  This incredible antique is a c.1908 Armitage-Herschell Track machine (#409).  It is made up of  24 rocking horses (2 abreast), 4 chariots, and an inner row of 16 benches that face outward. The carousel hub is embellished with original paintings on canvas.  The chariots are decorated with carved childhood scenes such as Mother Goose, Robinson Crusoe, a mermaid, and a dragon slayer on the outside, and original paintings on the back.  It was purchased in 1948 for $1500.  It operates 3 days each year the third full weekend in July for the Schenevus Firemans Carnival. - Contact Fire Dept. for details (no phone number available).
Day 4
After a long sleepless bus ride back to the hotel and a very much needed night of rest, the final day of "chasing merry-go-rounds" began with more of our Broome County tour.  The first stop on our journey was Recreation Park in Binghamton.  Rides on this carousel had to be postponed until later that afternoon due to a power outage.  Oh-well, these things happen ...
The Rec Park carousel was installed in 1925 and is made up of 60 jumping horses (4 abreast) and 2 chariots.  It underwent extensive restoration in 1991.  The painted scenes of the rounding boards provide for a "Camelot" theme found in the original artwork.

Operating times are: Memorial Day - Mid June: M-F 3 pm - 7:45 pm, Sat & Sun 12 noon - 7:45 pm  And Mid June - Labor Day: 12 daily noon - 7:45.  Admission is Free. 
(607) 722-9166 or (607) 772-7017

Next on the agenda was lunch and a carousel stop/museum visit at the Ross Park Zoo.  Those chicken spiedies were oh-so yummy!  Thanks Lupo's Catering ...
Ross Park's merry-go-round is the oldest in the county.  It was purchased in c.1920 as a replacement for a smaller version which was destroyed by lightening.  Again there are 60 jumping horses (4 abreast) and 2 chariots.  In keeping with the park's zoo theme, one of the chariots is even complete with a monkey playing in the trees.

Carousel operating times are: Weekends in May, daily Memorial Day - Labor Day, weekends in September: 11 - 5. Rides are Free.  (607) 724-5461

Ross Park not only has an awesome carousel, it also has a nice little carousel exhibit as well.  The display explores the history of carousel making, G. F. Johnson's role in acquiring the area's collection and specific information on their Herschell machines.

Carousel Exhibit open daily: Memorial Day - Mid September: 10 - 5.  Admission is Free.

After leaving the zoo we were off to the C. Fred Johnson Park were the carousel is housed in a two story, eight sided pavilion with a six sided cupola.  
This carousel was installed in 1923 and is the largest and most elaborate of the Broome County group.  It features seventy-two galloping horses running four abreast.  Horses have been adorned with jewels and fancy trappings.  The original scenic panels still remain. 

Operating times are: Weekends Memorial Day - September 30: 12 noon - 8 pm and Weekdays 3rd week in June to Labor Day 4 pm - 8 pm Admission is Free. 
(607) 722-9166 or (607) 772-7017

With a return visit to Rec Park, our Greater Binghamton tour was about to come to an end.  Maybe that is why it seemed we just couldn't get enough rides in that afternoon.  For many, it would be sometime before they had a chance to hop aboard one of these great art treasures again. 

After leaving the park we headed back to the hotel for a Banquet Dinner and Auction.  Afterward, night would turn to day, and for some participants there would be more meetings, socializing, and then preparing for the trip back home.  For others, it would be a chance to hit the road early so they could have another full day of chasing more merry-go-rounds in the New York area.

As one leaves Broome County, they are left with the since that it is most definitely the “Carousel Capital of the World.”  In fact, with their six antique merry-go-rounds, two carousel exhibits, street signs, banners, welcome signs, and "Ride the Carousel Circuit" campaign, they made us carousel nuts feel like there might actually be other people in the world that share such a love for this amazing pastime.

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Here are a few places on the internet where you can get more info on subjects mentioned in this article:

Roberson Museum in Binghamton
http://www.roberson.org/exhibits.htm#carousels

Binghamton, New York - “Carousel Capital of the World”
http://www.binghamtoncvb.com/carousels.asp
http://www.tier.net/~gwrra/carohist.htm

Ross Park Zoo 
http://www.rossparkzoo.com/
http://www.rossparkzoo.com/virtualtour/carousel/carousel.htm

Spiedies and Lupo's Catering 
http://www.spiedieandribpit.com/index.html

The New York State Museum - Albany, NY
http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/

Saratoga Springs Congress Park Carousel
http://www.wmht.org/TV/hometownSaratoga.cfm
http://www.saratoga.org/

National Museum of Horse Racing
http://www.racingmuseum.org/

Schenevus Firemans Carnival and Carousel
http://www.ccpc.net/community/schenevus/
http://www.ccpc.net/community/schenevus/carnival/
http://www.thedailystar.com/news/stories/2001/07/18/firecarnival.html

New York Carousel Census
http://www.nca-usa.org/NCAcensusStatesN-O.htm#NY

NCA/ACS Technical Conference and NCA/ACS Convention
http://www.nca-usa.org/events.html

Carousel Organizations
NCA: http://www.nca-usa.org/
http://www.carousels.com/acs.asp

About the author
Dennis has been writing about carousels, on and off, since 1988 when he completed two Arts and Humanities papers on the subject of carousels, while working on his undergraduate degree.  With a background in engineering and computer science, he has taken a break from those occupations to pursue his freelance writing and photography interests.  Dennis has photographed and/or video taped over 350 carousels and is looking forward to chasing down many more in the future. 

You can find out more about Dennis and his world of carousels by visiting: www.chasingmerrygorounds.com or writing him at: dendedragondude@aol.com