austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Merry-go-round wheezing that same old melody

We entered Lakeside Park from the parking lot, beside the abandoned Speedway. There's not an obvious barrier or entry point or anything, just the curb separating traffic entering the lot from the rides on its side. First thing encountered is the Phantom Pavilion, a mysterious name we supposed reflected some old ride. And hidden behind that was the Zyklon roller coaster, standing and apparently assembled. But there weren't any cars on it, and the launch station wasn't yet assembled, and even the sidewalk leading to it looked new. It was roped off. We passed rides --- a Flying Scooters, I assume of the original generation --- and a Ferris wheel. A free-standing ticket booth. Most of the rides have ticket booths, dating to the time when you could buy a ticket anywhere. There's something like four of them where you can still buy ride tickets or wristbands. We'd get ours from the one at the Merry-Go-Round.

I have to say something for the ticket booths, though. Like, the free-standing one near the Ferris Wheel and the not-yet-named new Zyklon roller coaster and all. They are these Art Deco beauties. If you want to see them, look at the city settings for any circa-1940 Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoon, all these slick smooth curves that just radiate human warmth as expressed in geometry and typeface design. It was all over the place. The Auto Skooter bumper-car ride, with an entrance that looked like Grandmom's Toaster That She Got From Going To The Movies Every Thursday For A Month. Long, gently curved concrete walls with benches snug against them. A tower of ... we weren't sure. We hypothesized it was a local, park-exclusive radio tower. It turned out to be the central tower from a captive-flying machine, the cars long since lost and the center tower still standing. Arcade games that were still closed up, but many of which would open as the day went on. The Skoota Boats, inflatable bumper-boats in a small artificial pond. (Lakeside Park is alongside an actual lake, Lake Rhoda --- named for Rhoda Krasner, now the park owner --- but it isn't open to swimming or to rides presently.)

So yes, we got distracted looking at the geese that had occupied a central park along the midway. The geese families, some with a handful of goslings, some with their own little flocks. This was just in front of the Tower of Jewels, looking ... magnificent in silhouette and a bit ratty in person. The midst of day hides the burned-out bulbs, and obscures the ones that are just missing, but makes obvious where the paint has peeled off. This is also in front of the Merry-Go-Round, where we would buy our wristbands, and that is just such an oddity.

Most carousel structures are one of two alternatives. One is your classic Golden Age of Carousels rotunda; it's either the actual antique building or a modern replica of it, a (usually) wooden dome above a circular or octagonal structure. Or else it's a sparkling jewel-box of glass held up by metal framework, the better to show off the carousel. This is neither. This is again an Art Deco beauty, a white birthday cake roof above partial cement walls, and fronted by an overhang that wouldn't look out of place as a sidewalk movie theater's frontage. With a cylindrical pillar, wrapped in vertical blue neon tubes, and a yellow-neon-tube sphere atop that. The central running boards don't have paintings; they have mirrors. It's a bizarre structure. We would come to learn how bizarre the carousel inside is.

Because this is a weird carousel. Even an amateur eye would see how it's different. The animals are four to a row, common enough. But the outer two animals are on the base level of the carousel. Then there's a step up, and a row of smaller animals on the inside. And then another step up, to a row of even smaller mounts yet. It's rare enough to have a carousel with two levels to the platform; I think we've only been on one before. We had never seen a carousel with three. I'm not sure any other carousels with three levels like this exist.

And then ... the animals. bunny_hugger enjoys her carousel-enthusiast street cred of being someone who can identify the major carvers. At least the major carving styles, if individual carving studios are hard to pin down. This ride ... she couldn't make sense of it. The horses weren't flamboyant like Coney Island horses are. They weren't realistic like Philadelphia Style horses. They were too good for the County Fair style of the other carvers around the United States. And they were too different. There were horses, yes. There were four rabbits, painted in random pastels. There were giant cats. Who puts more than one lion and one tiger on a carousel? Whoever this was, as they put two of each. There were burros. There were deer. There were dogs. There were monkeys and bears. A month ago we would have accepted a bet that no classic carousel had a monkey on it. Here was incontrovertible proof there was. (Bears were rare, but did exist; many were repainted to pandas in the Great Panda Craze of the 1930s, when Grandmom got her toaster.)

The heck? This carousel had non-horse figures, ``menagerie'' figures as they call them. Many carousels have a couple. This had, literally, more menagerie figures than horses, which just did not happen before the opening of Carousel Works in the 1980s. The carousel had no historical plaque, no caption explaining any of its past. It would be a mystery. We spent a lot of time studying the ride hoping for any clue about its origins, its make, its bizarre collection of figures, and couldn't get anything from it. Just the agreement of ride operators that it was a fascinating carousel.

The paint on the animals isn't all that good; you can see, for example, not only that the rabbits were apparently dipped in pastel green (or whatnot) but that it's faded, worn down by people getting on the animals. There's a large box that pretends to be a band organ, labelled Organ Wagon #69 by someone who thought he was very funny. There are some painted scenery panels on the inside, scenes from fairy tales and painted in a style you might call ``non-avant-garde 70s pinball style'', which is to say the women have quite a lot of breast and have deployed nipples under their clothing. It's an odd bit of dubious taste for what is otherwise a kid-friendly park.

The National Carousel Association census reports the ride is a C W Parker carousel, most likely built in Kansas in 1908. This would make it a County Fair-style carousel. The carvings appear to be idiosyncratic, assembled from wherever the first owners of the carousel could find them. Wikipedia thinks many of the animals look like Charles Looff carvings, out of Coney Island. This is unusual, but not unheard-of. The carousel at Lake Compounce in Connecticut similarly has a collection of animals gathered from at least four different makers. The National Carousel Association does not know who the original owner was, or where it was originally set. Nor does it know when the carousel moved to Lakeside Park. I imagine it arrived there before the building was put up, sometime in the late 30s. But, wow. I don't want to make any assumptions about this ride. It is too much a puzzle.

Trivia: The foundations for the first pier of Old London Bridge were laid in 1176, according to the Annals of Waverley Abbey of 1291. Source: Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe, Patricia Pierce.

Currently Reading: How To Read Nancy: The Elements Of Comics In Three Easy Panels, Paul Karasik, Mark Newgarden. OK, so in the 20s Ernie Bushmiller tried a bunch of little narrow-focus comics, the way people tried in those days. One of them: Cross Word Cal, entirely crossword-puzzle-themed jokes. 1920s newspaper comics were such 1990s web comics.


PS: Storybook land! We're nearer the end of the day than you maybe realize.

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And when you've got through the Alice in Wonderland cave, you step out into the card maze. Which ... is less challenging than it might be, since the cards are about four feet tall. But it'd be a lot harder for a kid. Yes, they us several instances of cards. There's at least two 4's of Clubs and two 5's of Hearts in this picture straight away.


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Cinderella pumpkin carriage that's presently tucked inside a gazebo. It at least used to be in park parades. I believe it's been retired from all those now.


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Humpty Dumpy, and a park alphabet-block sign that I think dates to the opening of the park in 1955. If I'm not remembering wrong the blocks after 'N' and 'J' carry '.'s.


Tags: #69, denver dash, fifth anniversary trip, lakeside park, story book land
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