The Rocky Springs Carousel and the Euclid Beach Park Carousel in Cleveland, Ohio, have much in common. Both were created in the golden age of carousel art, were located in parks that closed, moved to other states and later returned to their place of origin.
The Euclid Beach Park Carousel, built in 1911, was in the Euclid Beach Park until that park closed. It was sold and moved to a park in Maine. Years later, when that park closed, the carousel was moved back to Cleveland and put into storage.
A group of community-minded citizens in Cleveland purchased the carousel and raised the money to build a carousel house. The carousel and its house were gifted to the Western Reserve History Center in Cleveland. The carousel opened to the public in 2014 and, four years later, had its 200,000th rider.
The Rocky Springs Carousel was operated from 1901 in the Rocky Springs Amusement Park, near Lancaster, as a concession by its German immigrant carver, Gustav Dentzel. In 1982, as the park was preparing to close, the carousel was moved to Lake Lansing, Michigan, and later to Dollywood, Tennessee. In 1999, it was returned to Lancaster.
The Rocky Springs Carousel Association raised the money to purchase the carousel, but it still needed housing and a location. The carousel with its animals — 33 horses and 15 menagerie animals — were placed in storage. While in storage, 13 of its animals received professional restorations.
A classic anthology of antique carousel art — “Painted Ponies” by William Manns, Peggy Shank and Marianne Stevens — lists 150 carousels in the United States. These are the carousels — from the more than 5,000 that once existed in this country — that have survived fires, floods and neglect.
The Rocky Springs Carousel was at Dollywood when the 1996 edition of “Painted Ponies” was published. The carousels are rated the highest rating, being a two-horse silhouette beside the carousel's name.
Only 10 carousels in this book are honored with the two-horse symbol and Dollywood’s carousel (the Rocky Springs Carousel) is one of them. This ranks it among the top 10 carousels in the United States.
The $1.3 million used to purchase the Rocky Springs Carousel came from private donors. None of these donors — some of whom are now in their 80s and 90s — have seen the carousel that they helped to purchase.
In a publicity document dated April 13, 2001, the Rocky Springs Carousel Association announced a plan to give naming rights for a carousel animal in return for a $4,000 gift toward the purchase of the carousel.
This document reads: “Individuals or families who adopt an animal will have their seat reserved for the very first ride on the Carousel.” These donors are still waiting for that first ride.
It was not only adults who helped to purchase the carousel. School children brought their nickels and dimes to their classrooms and dropped them into carousel animal banks. One school — Buchanan Elementary in the School District of Lancaster — contributed $400. These children have never gotten to ride on the carousel that their nickels and dimes helped to purchase.
The carousel was moved out of Rocky Springs Park 37 years ago. That means that two generations of children have missed out on the fun of riding a carousel animal and of trying to grab the brass ring. (The Rocky Springs Carousel is one of only 11 carousels in this country that has the brass ring game. The expression — “Go for it” — is derived from reaching for the brass ring.)
In the “I Know A Story” published in LNP on June 8, 2018, and headlined “The thrills of Rocky Springs,” Brad Wile wrote: “The carousel was alive, and it seemed like so were the animals.”
Twenty years ago, city officials and the Rocky Springs Carousel Association partnered to bring the carousel home to Lancaster. It is hoped that they can soon find a place for one of this country’s top 10 antique classic wood carousels. Now is the time to grab that brass ring and to bring the carousel animals back to life again.
Eileen Gregg is a Lancaster resident.