Historic 1918 carousel opens at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo on July 22, 2006.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 8/31/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7878
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On July 22, 2006, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo officially opens a 1918 wooden carousel with hand-carved horses donated by Seattleites Tom and Linda Allen of the Alleniana Foundation in December 2000. The carousel is housed in a pavilion to protect it from the elements. Woodland Park Zoo's carousel was produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It is one of only about 150 vintage hand-carved wooden carousels remaining in the world, down from more than 5,000 at the turn of the twentieth century.


Horses on the carousel stand three abreast. The steeds on the outside ring are the largest and most elaborately carved, and they do not move up and down as the carousel revolves. Several horses in the middle ring are considered to be the carousel's most unique: one with two golden griffins carved into the saddle blanket, one draped with an American flag, and a horse with highly detailed flower carvings.

Several horses have carved animal pelts under their carved saddles and some feature animals such as a hare or dog strapped to the back of the saddle. The carousel's chariot features a detailed carving of a female Liberty/Columbia figure draped in a billowing American flag, and a bald eagle.

The night before the carousel opened to the general public, zoo donors gathered at dusk to mount the freshly restored horses for the carousel's first ride. These donors had funded the carousel pavilion's construction. Patrons who "adopted" one or more of the 48 horses and two vintage chariots for between $10,000 and $30,000 each were given the privilege of naming that horse. This drive generated $3.2 million to pay for renovating the carousel and constructing the pavilion. The pavilion is named in honor of David L. Towne, formerly Seattle Parks Department superintendent and Woodland Park Zoo's director from 1984 until 2002, in recognition of his decades of service to the Zoo and to the Seattle community.

Philadelphia Toboggan Company

Henry Auchey (1861-1922) and Chester Albright founded the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 21, 1904. The company's factory was located at 130 East Duval Street in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Philadelphia Toboggan is the oldest operating roller coaster company in the world and the second-oldest amusement-ride manufacturer in the world. The word toboggan refers to wooden figure-eight-shaped roller coasters. The company made (and still makes, as of 2006) wooden roller coasters. From 1904 until about 1930, Philadelphia Toboggan also produced elaborately carved carousels.

Carousel horses carved at Philadelphia Toboggan Company are noted for natural-looking horses with sweet facial expressions. Lead carousel carvers included Frank Caretta, Lee Zoller, Carl Muller, and John Zalar. John Zalar (d. 1925), an Austrian woodcarver who also carved religious statues, was considered the ultimate wooden carousel carver.

Philadelphia Toboggan Company produced the carousel installed at Woodland Park Zoo on commission for the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. The carousel was identified as PTC No. 45. It is one of only three carousels thought to have been completely hand-carved by master carver John Zalar (except the chariot sides are attributed to Daniel Muller). Zalar's other carousels were PTC No. 44 and PTC No. 46. The Western Washington Fair in Puyallup owns the state's only other functioning Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel, PTC No. 43, produced in 1917. In 1991 the company changed its name to Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters.

The Way To San Jose -- and to Seattle

In 1974 the Cincinnati Zoo sold the carousel to the Marriott Great America Amusement Park (now Paramount's Great America) in the San Jose suburb of Santa Clara, California. The amusement park was then in the planning stages. In 1976 Great America opened with both the 1918 carousel and Carousel Columbia, billed as the world's tallest double-decker carousel. The Carousel Columbia's 100 animals are 1970s-era fiberglass replicas of rare horses and other animals from many historic carousels by a variety of companies. Carousel Columbia was a showpiece ride when Great America opened. The 1918 carousel was called the Ameri-Go-Round and was sited in the far end of the park in an area called the County Fair. In 1995 Great America took the Ameri-Go-Round off display to make way for a ride called the Drop Zone Stunt Center.

Linda Allen, a retired marriage-and-family therapist who served on the board of the American Carousel Society, and her husband Tom Allen, a retired construction company vice-president who served on the board of the National Carousel Association, fell in love with carousels as children in Baldwin, New York. Baldwin was home to an amusement park called Nunley's that featured a 1912 Stein and Goldstein carousel that originally operated in Brooklyn, New York, at Coney Island. The Allens dreamed of giving the children of Seattle a truly historic carousel and conducted an exhaustive search for an available complete vintage carousel.

The Allens contacted Great America about PTC No. 45. Once convinced that the Allens intended to put the entire carousel into public use again, the park's owners acquiesced. Zoo director David L. Towne gratefully accepted the Allens' gift. Because of the necessity of raising money to build a pavilion to shelter the carousel, and also because some Seattle community members expressed concern that installing even a valuable historic carousel might distract zoo-goers from focusing on the animals, six years elapsed between the time the Allen's gift was announced and the carousel's opening.

Bette Largent, considered a national authority on antique wooden carousel restoration, oversaw the complete restoration of PTC No. 45's horses. The carousel's motion mechanism was refurbished at the Historic Carousels facility at the International Museum of Carousel Art in Hood River, Oregon.

Other Woodland Park Carousels

From 1919 until 1934 George E. Vincent (1874- ca. 1938)and his wife Lucy Vincent (ca. 1893-1990)owned and operated an amusement business at 5501 Phinney Avenue, directly across the street from what is now (2006) the zoo's west entrance. The Vincents' business was called the Woodland Park Pavilion or Woodland Amusement Park (in 1929 and 1930 the Seattle City Directory lists the name as New Carrosselle) and at various times appears to have consisted of a dance pavilion/skating rink, refreshment bar, Ferris wheel, and carousel. In all likelihood the Vincents operated two carousels at this location over time, the first probably a C. W. Parker Company carousel and the second (after 1929) a four-abreast model by the Spillman Engineering Company.

On the evening of August 26, 1934, the carousel, Ferris wheel, skating rink, and concession stand were destroyed in a spectacular fire that terrified nearby zoo animals and drew crowds of curious spectators. The Vincents may have still owned their first carousel, since they sought permission to operate the ride in Woodland Park after the fire. Whether this request was granted (and this carousel's subsequent fate) remain unclear.

Sometime between June 1935 and March 1940 Dave Himelhoch, a Woodland Park food concessionaire, began operating a carousel on zoo grounds. This was most likely a smaller children's merry-go-round without music. In late March 1940 Himelhoch's contract was cancelled and Fern Huggins installed a carousel in the zoo. Huggins did so without charging the zoo a fee. By agreement she turned over 15 percent of her profit to the Parks Department. After several weeks of low yield on this deal the Park Commission asked for a 20 percent cut. Huggins refused, and by July her carousel was gone.

In 1950 Seattle Park commissioners hesitantly agreed to let John Beck install children's rides at Woodland Park Zoo. These included a so-called jumping merry-go-round. It is unclear whether this was a full-sized machine. Beck's ride concession was called Kiddyland. A number of other individuals held the Zoo's Kiddyland concession over the subsequent two decades, each with their own set of rides. Because of this fact it appears that the zoo housed a number of carousels over the years, of various types and sizes. Carnival Sales Company, owned by Benjamin Meyers, held this concession from 1958 until ca. 1971, a possible indication of one carousel with longer tenure during this period. An article in The Seattle Times on June 18, 1961 stated that the carousel then operating at Woodland Park Zoo, with 76 wooden horses and its original band organ, was of German manufacture and had recently been moved to the Zoo from Coney Island.

In the late 1960s, zoos around the country including Woodland Park Zoo began to re-evaluate the role zoos played within both human and animal communities. Part of this process was a general awakening to the idea that animals in zoos were not merely there to entertain zoo visitors but rather that they presented an opportunity to educate the public, especially children, about animals both in captivity and in the wild, and about the importance of habitat conservation.

Within this new context, kiddy rides were often seen at best as a distraction from a zoo's newly evolved educational mission and at worst as a hazard to animals since the loud music that often accompanied them might distress the creatures. Some, though by no means all, zoos removed rides, including carousels. The Official Guide To Woodland Park Zoo, published in 1972, includes both a zoo map identifying Kiddyland and a "Zoo of the Future" map on which the ride area does not appear. By the late 1970s, apparently without fanfare, the last kiddy ride concession expired and the rides, including carousel, were gone.

Deja Zoo

In recent years the pendulum of thought about carousels in zoos has swung back toward acceptance. Sound systems have evolved in such a way that carousel music can be more finely calibrated and the speakers (as at Woodland Park Zoo) pointed toward the riders rather than out into the animal areas of the zoo. Although few zoos are fortunate enough to own original carved wooden carousels like the one given to Woodland Park Zoo, some zoos have more modern machines with fiberglass or aluminum horses. The Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma features a 1917 C. W. Parker carousel with recently hand carved animals on a Pacific Northwest theme.

Several zoos, including the Denver Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, Kansas City Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, and even the Cincinnati Zoo have recently installed Conservation Carousels. These machines feature fiberglass examples of various endangered species. Zoo carousels generate revenue and offer animal lovers an ephemeral moment to participate in an historic aspect of the zoo-going past.

Sources: Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters website accessed July 24, 2006 (http://www.philadelphiatoboggancoastersinc.com)); Brian Morgan, "Major Carousel Builders and Carvers," National Carousel Association website accessed July 23, 2006 (http://www.nca-usa.org/); "Family Rides," Paramount Great America website accessed July 23, 2006 (http://www3.paramountparks.com/greatamerica/); "History of Marriott's Great America Parks," "Columbia Carousel," and "Ameri-Go-Round," Great America Parks website accessed July 23, 2006 (http://www.greatamericaparks.com/history.html; "The Zoo's First Century: 1887-1999," Woodland Park Zoo website accessed July 25, 2006 (http://www.zoo.org/zoo_info/special/history/begin.html); Seattle Board of Park Commissioners Minutes, Vols. 8-20, August 1921-October 17, 1974, RG 9365-01, Seattle Municipal Archives; "Former President Helped Build Wooden Horses," The Seattle Times, July 18, 1965; "Horsin' Around and Around," Ibid., August 17, 1989, p. F-1; Larry Wood, "Seattle's Playland Horses Still 'Live,'" Ibid., October 27, 1974; Gladys Grethe Nelson, "Carousels, Calliope Give Young Seattle Old Time Thrill," Ibid., June 18, 1961; Jack Simmons, Official Guide To Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle: Seattle Zoological Society, 1972); Barbara Clements, "Giving Carousels A Second Time Around," The News Tribune, April 2, 1998, p. A-1; Theresa Morrow, "Merry Go Round -- This Portland Family Treats These Frozen Horses Like An Endangered Species," The Seattle Times, November 18, 1990, p. 24; Petition of Mrs. G. E. Vincent for reduction of license fee for Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round, August 6, 1934, City of Seattle Comptroller File #144446, Seattle Municipal Archives; "Protest of Park Board against Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel, and Dance Hall near entrance to Woodland Park," April 28, 1919, City of Seattle Comptroller File #73244, Seattle Municipal Archives; Dorothea Nordstrand, email to Paula Becker, July 27, 2006, possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington; Jean Godden, "Whoa! Bring Back Seattle's Old Horses," The Seattle Times, January 17, 1999, p. B-1; Jean Godden, "Bidders Didn't Horse Around With Carousel," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 20, 1988, p. C-1; Joseph B. Frazier, "Museum: Carousel Art Preserved," Ibid., July 18, 2002; Jack Simmons, Official Guide To Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle: Seattle Zoological Society, 1972); "Woodland Park Zoo Brochures & Publications 1937-1976," Park Files: Woodland Park -- Woodland Park Zoo 1892-1985, Box 50, file 8, Seattle Parks Department Don Sherwood Parks History Collection, 5801-01, Seattle Municipal Archives; "Paul Titus Carousel Is Open," Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium website accessed July 29, 2006 (http://www.pdza.org/); Doree Armstrong, "Woodland Park Zoo's Newest Rare Animals: 1918 Carousel is a Merry Addition," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 21, 2006, p. 40; "Nunley's," Roller Coaster Database website accessed July 30, 2006 (http://www.rcdb.com/); Kery Murakami, "Donors of Carousel Horses Eager To See Them At Zoo," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 2004; John de Leon, "Seattle Couple Gives Zoo 1918 Carousel...," The Seattle Times, December 7, 2000, p. A-1; "PTC #45 Historic Carousel," Woodland Park Zoo press kit, July 22, 2006, in possession of HistoryLink.org, Seattle, Washington; Charles J. Jacques Jr., PTC Carousels -- World's Finest And Most Substantially Made (Natrona Heights, PA: Amusement Park Journal, 1984); "Woodland Park Carnival Center Burns; Spectacular Inferno Puts Zoo In Uproar," Seattle Post-Intelligencer , August 27, 1934, p. 1.

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