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The Magic and Majesty of Carousel Ponies
Remember your 8-year-old self, longing for excitement, adventure, fantasy, or just plain fun. Experience the thrill of riding a pony to the cheerful tunes of carnival music on a summer evening. Carousels are not exclusively an American phenomenon but they flourished in America like nowhere else during a golden age from the late 1800’s until about the time of the Great Depression. They were the creation of entrepreneurs, engineers, and artists and they represent a classic and truly great American Craft.

Photos by Paul Mello and Phil Dickinson — All photos were taken at the Battleship Cove Carousel in Fall River Massachusetts.
Before After
Before After
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A carousel pony is a special art form that not only beautifully captures the powerful anatomy of a fine pony, but also builds a fanciful narrative of royal pageantry and fantasy of a bygone era. While at first we assume this form of folk art is designed to delight and entertain an 8-year-old child, a closer look reveals that there is so much to study and admire for any adult. Many of the carvers who created American ponies had learned their craft in Europe, typically as an apprentice, and then emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Century.
The Painted Ponies at Battleship Cove, Fall River Massachusetts.

Battleship Cove is a World War II era Naval marine museum featuring the Battleship, USS Massachusetts, Destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Submarine Lionfish, and two PT boats.

When Lincoln Park in nearby Dartmouth, MA closed its doors in 1987, the mayor and community of Fall River raised the funds to purchase the carousel, have it completely restored and moved to Battleship Cove, where it is currently housed on the second floor of a specially constructed round pavilion building.

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The Carousel is open from May 31 to October 10 Wednesday through Sunday and year-round for private parties. Rides are $3.00 and well worth it. We highly recommend a visit to this beautiful carousel and would hope that you could encourage your children to understand and appreciate some of the history and craftsmanship behind the carving and painting of the ponies. Those who are interested in a private event should call 508-678-1100 ext. 101 or 102. The web site is http:/www.battleshipcove.org.
Between the carousel and the naval museum and ships in the same location there is more than enough to keep a family occupied, entertained and interested for a full day, if not two or three.
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A carousel pony is a special art form that not only beautifully captures the powerful anatomy of a fine pony, but also builds a fanciful narrative of royal pageantry and fantasy of a bygone era. While at first we assume this form of folk art is designed to delight and entertain an 8-year-old child, a closer look reveals that there is so much to study and admire for any adult. Many of the carvers who created American ponies had learned their craft in Europe, typically as an apprentice, and then emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Century.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of groups and museums across the country dedicated to keeping this wonderful tradition alive. We recommend checking out the web site of the National Carousel Association: http://carousels.org. Another good source of information can be found by visiting carousels museums across the country.

The New England Carousel Museum is in Bristol, CT. : http://thecarouselmuseum.org.

The Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in Tonawanda, NY: http:carousel museum.org.
The carousel at Battleship Cove was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan in 1919 and set up in Lincoln Park in 1920.

The Philadelphia Toboggan Company, which continues to make roller coaster cars today, was founded in 1904 by Heny B. Archie and Chester E. Albright. In 1909 Auchy patented a friction drive that set a higher standard for the engineering in American carousels. Many of the original Auchie friction drives are still running.

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The company produced a total 0f 94 carousels between 1904 and 1934 to be shipped to amusement parks across the country. They were known by their number. The one at Battleship Cove is Number 54.

While the company no longer produces new carousels, it maintains a staff of craftsmen who restore their original carousels.

Known as carvers, the designers and creators of the original ponies at the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and other companies were really artists and sculptors who worked in wood. Each had his own unique style and some developed national reputations.

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This photo illustrates the masterful 1919 construction by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and the quality of the restoration. One of the things a carousel has to be is accessible. In this installation an easy step puts you right on the deck with all the wonderful ponies. I can remember as a boy the excitement of walking among the magnificent ponies and getting to choose the one that I would ride to victory.

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© 2017 Phil Dickinson
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