January 24th, 2017

krazy koati

In the patch, we're watching for Great Pumpkin

The first new thing I noticed at the Merry-Go-Round Museum was Mighty Mouse. In one of the windows up front they had a carousel mount, kiddie-sized, that looked like the inexplicably lovable superhero. The museum had heaps of new stuff for 2016. The place looked fuller than it had previously. This may be transient. I may have this a bit wrong, but bunny_hugger will be able to fix any glitches in my recollection. But a lot of the Merry-Go-Round Museum's pieces are on loan from collectors or the estates of collectors. At least one of the big loaners has been talking about wanting pieces back home, at least for a while. If I remember rightly the heirs to one of their donors wanted some pieces back to appreciate themselves. It's hard to fault them for that, but it's also hard not to hope that they'll decide after a while that a horse or band organ or other feature like that is better put in a museum where many can see the art and craftsmanship involved.

And they did, at least for now, have a lot of new stuff on display, or new arrangements of what they did have. Most prominent is they had several pieces of an M C Ilions-carved scenic wall. They had only two panels of it up in the main room, with another half-dozen or so panels in storage because the museum didn't have room to show them all. The museum is a former Post Office, a rare circular-plan one, and it's a place big enough to, well, fit a carousel in it and probably a second if they didn't mind putting them off-center. So you get some idea of how big this must be that only a quarter of it can fit on display.

There were smaller things too. Mighty Mouse. A circa 1925 Allan Herschell white elephant, that stands rather than going up and down and that kids could ride in. Reindeer and broad scenery panels and banners pointing out how many things were from the Charlotte Dinger collection. Dinger's one of the people who in the 70s and 80s brought carousels to the attention of the art world. This had the dual effect of making them appreciated, while also making them valuable enough that dying parks might sell off their carousels, breaking them up and losing them to private collectors. Nothing's ever simple.

Delightful as all that is we got faintly uneasy feelings from the museum. Murmurings about losing chunks of the collection are never an easy thing for a museum. There were also very few visitors; for long stretches of our visit we were the only patrons. The museum's often quiet while we're there, and we don't have experience with being there on a Sunday, and a rainy, cool Sunday at that. But it's uneasy to be alone quite so long like that. The gift shop seemed a little barren too, underpopulated in that way one gets when the underlying property is having a lean year. I picked up a couple of the carousel magazines I always get there. I get a thrill seeing rapidtrabbit's column in actual print.

Worse, though. Absolutely catastrophic: the museum didn't have a 2017 Carousels calendar. bunny_hugger always gets one for her office. We used to get it at the carousel shop in Seaside Heights, until that closed; then she shifted to getting it at the Merry-Go-Round Museum. The clerk/docent/nearly-only-person-we-saw-at-the-museum told us the sad story. The carousel calendar was always a small-print-run thing that barely sold enough to cover its costs. After a few years of not covering costs they gave up, at least for this year. There's rumblings about maybe finding something to do for 2018 but no promises.

I'm stunned that there aren't any mass-marketed carousel calendars because ... well, sheesh, doesn't it seem like they should be inevitable? Carousel animals are incredibly photogenic things, whether they're photographed against a black backdrop (as many of the calendar pictures were) or in their normal installed setting. They're genuine Americana, many of them a century or so old. The new ones are carved to have some specific meaning to the commissioner, usually a zoo or public park, that bought them. How are calendar shops not lousy with carousel art?

I can understand some of the production problems. Every carousel animal is owned, after all, and many are owned by collectors or estates of collectors who might get tetchy about reproduction rights. Many of the other owners are amusement park chains, again, companies I can imagine being hard to deal with. It still seems like a Carousels Of America line of calendars ought to be an easy thing to sell. Something's awry here.

bunny_hugger would handle 2017 by making her own calendar, using carousel pictures she had taken in 2016. It was a challenge; she hadn't thought to photograph old familiar rides like those at Michigan's Adventure or at Cedar Point before Halloweekends (for which the rides are dressed up some). But she made it herself and that'll cover 2017 at least. Hopefully 2018 will be better, but haven't we all been saying that about the year?

Trivia: On 24 January 1776 Colonel Henry Knox arrived in Boston from Ticonderoga with 43 cannon and sixteen mortars. Source: Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, Christopher Hibbert.

Currently Reading: P T Barnum: The Legend And The Man, A H Saxon.