Yesterday I visited a carousel I’ve been wanting see for some time—yes, a carousel, merry-go-round, or whatever else you might call it. Most people don’t think about carousels, but since I did a lot of research on them for my story “The Last Horse” (due out this fall in Aoife’s Kiss), I’ve become a bit of a carousel aficionado.
I’m in the San Francisco area visiting relatives and went to see the carousel in Tilden Park, up in the hills above Berkeley. It was built by the Herschell-Spillman company around 1911 and is one of their county fair models with a menagerie of animals (you can see pictures here). Although it’s been modified quite a lot over the last century, it still has many of the original animals, and they are impressive pieces of artwork. I was a little disappointed that the music was a recording piped in through speakers instead of coming from the ride’s organ, but what can you do. Regardless, I rode it twice and spent enough time admiring the craftmanship. My six-year-old daughter, who got me hooked on carousels in the first place, also had great time.
The Tilden Park carousel plays only a minor role in “The Last Horse,” but it’s the first one that I’ve actually seen in person. Due to its bit-part status, I didn’t write much about it, but it was certainly worthy of more words than I gave it. I hope someday to see all of the carousels that appear in “The Last Horse” (Story City, Iowa; Paragon, Massachusetts; Lakeside Park, Colorado; Madison, South Dakota; and Benton, Texas), especially the ones that played larger roles in the story. There is something magical (and sadly nostalgic) about them that cannot be captured in pictures; they feel like relics of a past time, a sort of coelacanth of a by-gone, and maybe better, America.
If you’re interested in learning more about these pieces of Americana, visit the National Carousel Association‘s website. They have a fantastic database of all the historical carousels in America and a wonderful interactive map (I’ve spent hours clicking on their map, but I love maps). This was my go-to resource when researching and writing my story, and I still find that I return to it often to see what carousel are in my area when traveling.