Saturday, May 19, 2012

Painted Ponies: Carousels

I loooove carousels. As a little girl, I would run around the whole carousel in order to see all the horses, so I could pick the best one to ride. That's why I was particularly delighted to visit Wisconsin's oldest working carousel in Waterloo, WI. You can still ride it, for free, on selected dates at Waterloo's Fireman's Park.

Build in 1911, moved to Waterloo in 1925 and recently refurbished, these 28 painted ponies have survived flooding and neglect. Now though, they look as beautiful as the day they were made... though their real, original horse-hair tails are rather disturbing:

Equally surreal are some of the details that the carver, C.W. Parker, saw fit to include. Since he was the only midwestern-based carousel maker around at the time, he wanted to celebrate things that were representative of his home. Thus, the cantles of some horses' saddles are decorated with peaches, corn, tobacco and... fish?! I guess he couldn't fit a cow on there.

Carousels as rides have been around since at least 500 AD-- a Byzantine bass relief shows us people riding in baskets suspended from a pole. The horses came in when European crusaders invaded the middle east and saw military horse practices, which they dubbed garosello (Italian) or carosella (Spanish) meaning "little battle." The French got so excited by this idea that they turned the military exercises into beautiful horse ballets set to music, usually performed at night by torchlight. They're the ones that introduced all the flowery decorations. (Yeah, well, that's the French for ya...) During the 1600s, the horses and the ride were combined, powered by animals or people. At this point, the carved horses weren't attached to anything at the bottom; they flew outward like those swings rides:

The insanity of people riding whirling 200lb wooden animals, unrestrained, became evident and the lower platform was created. During the industrial revolution, the up-and-down mechanisms were added, first powered by steam and then electricity. When the public got bored, "grabbing the brass ring" was added. Carousels finally went out of fashion in the 1920s. You can read more about the Waterloo carousel here and here, with the latter link also listing carousel locations in Wisconsin.

I am totally going to dress Annie as a carousel horse for my September silly show's costume class! Here's an example I found online:

Zomg, so pretty!!! <3 <3 I mean, *ahem* that's rather juvenile, but it'll be an easy costume. Okay, stay tuned-- we're almost at 100 posts, where I'll be giving away something to celebrate that and Annie's fourth birthday!

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