The Floyd L. Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel
Some Carousel History
Central Park, PA trolley park carousel.
At the turn of the twentieth century carousels were immensely popular. These amusement rides were often the central attraction in trolley parks, which were the precursor to our modern amusement parks. Many hundreds of carousels were built during the early part of the twentieth century. The various manufacturers were known for their own unique style of machine that they produced. Carousel producers were partly defined by the artisans that created the hand carved animals. Horses were the staple of most carousels but other animals were also produced and put on some machines. The best artisans had unique styles that became a part of the beautiful animals they produced. A modern day carousel expert can look at a 100 year old animal made by one of the better known carvers and readily identify the animals' creator. Another defining feature of each manufacturers' carousel was the mechanical workings of their machines. Innovative turning mechanisms and the use of different types of power sources were important elements of a machine's design.
Carousel manufacturers were once found in such places as Brooklyn, upstate New York, and Kansas (carousel carvers and companies). The Dentzel Carousel Company, a family run business, was based in Pennsylvania. Dentzel produced the first American carousel and were known for their beautifully carved animals and excellent platform turning mechanisms. The origins of Seaside Heights' boardwalk is intimately tied to one of the Dentzel masterpieces from that era.
The end of the so called golden age of carousels was marked by a decline in the popularity of trolley parks. The Dentzel manufacturing operations ceased in 1928 (but are back in business today!) and was one of the last carousel manufacturers to call it quits. The Great Depression accelerated the demise of many local amusement areas and their carousels. Most park owners were faced with dwindling revenues and had few viable options for running and maintaining their machines. Their actions then began a long decline in the existing number of classic carousels. Many were simply sold for parts. Decades later collectors began coveting the beautiful hand carved animals. This drove up their prices and created more demand. This in turn led to even more carousels being dismantled. Owners were able to cash out of their failing business more profitable by selling all their animals than if they tried to sell their business or the whole carousel.
The Historic Seaside Heights' Carousel
The Casino Pier carousel has, like many storied carousels, an interesting history. The machine was originally part of a trolley park called Island Beach Park. Oddly enough this was not the Island Beach found just miles from Seaside Heights but was located in Burlington, NJ. In 1928 the park burned and the fire damaged the carousel. An area resident, Linus Gilbert, rescued and rebuilt the machine. He bought and added carved figures that were not part of the original. This resulted in a carousel with a mixture of animals from a few different revered carvers, some of whom had worked from different carousel manufacturers. The work of William Dentzel, Marcus Illions, Charles Carmel, and Charles Looff are all represented in this one carousel.
The carousel was brought from Burlington to Seaside Heights in 1932. It was placed in an open frame building and was still under the care and management of Linus Gilbert. This first building was the beginnings of what would later become the Casino Arcade and Casino Pier. When the carousel building was first built there was a fishing pier located a short distance away. The pier then had nothing to do with what was soon to become a growing amusement area. Eventually the "Seaside Heights Casino” was built to house the carousel and to add more attractions around it. This same building is still in place today. The most recent large scale change to the structure took place in the 1980's. The building was made smaller to keep it from blocking Ocean Boulevard, which is the main street paralleling the western side of the boardwalk.
The Casino Pier carousel was almost lost to another disaster - selling off the animals to collectors. The owners of the carousel seriously considered dismantling their machine in the 1980s. Some animals fetched more than $100,000 at auction during that decade. The selling off of the animals met strong opposition from an unlikely corner, Dr. Floyd Moreland. At the time he was Professor of Classics and Dean at the City University of New York. He had ridden the carousel as a child and later operated the ride as an employee of the Casino Pier. Dr. Moreland convinced the owners they should let him restore the carousel. This project took a number of years and involved numerous people chipping in their time or money to help Dr. Moreland. Their collective efforts helped bring back the vibrancy and beauty of the carousel.
Today you can see the carousel and admire the results of the restoration work by visiting the Casino Arcade. It costs nothing to see the carousel and for a few dollars you can have a firsthand experience with history!