Have you ever seen an alligator as part of a menagerie carousel? I never had, so was surprised to find one on display adjacent to a carousel, often called the “Flying Horses” by local residents of New Orleans, when I visited the Hines Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, part of New Orleans City Park.
It turns out that alligator was never part of the carousel. It was built in 2015 by the man who has taken care of the carousel for over 40 years, Bill Finkenstein with WRF Designs out of Connecticut. The piece was made for children to climb on to take photos with, as I did here – without getting on a moving carousel. Bill created the piece to honor the late Beau Bassich of New Orleans City Park. Beau is a large reason the carousel is still in the Park today. There are pieces placed on the gator to represent their friendship and Beau’s family. The oak tree was added as it was the only oak tree in Connecticut on Bill’s property and it made him think of the Park.
The carousel is the oldest ride in the park. It dates back to 1906 but some of the animal figures date back to 1885. Although I’m not a huge fan of carousels (I prefer rides that go fast), I soon learned that the carousel was originally located on a tract of land along City Park Avenue. The carousel was moved to its current location in 1928, creating what would eventually be City Park’s Amusement Park.
The carousel has had a few owners in its history including Harry Batt, Sr. Batt operated the defunct Pontchartrain Beach park. In the late 1980s. William B. Hines loaned Friends of City Park $300,000 to purchase the Carousel from Harry Batt and an additional $50,000 to renovate the Carousel. Eventually, Hines forgave all loans. The William B. Hines Carousel Gardens Amusement Park is named for him.
With the exception of the quirky gator, the carousel’s animals were carved and hand painted by Charles Looff and Charles Carmel. The Looff animal figures contain faux gem stones and are the older than the Carmel animals. The animals are so admired by visitors they need repainting every year to two years. They are still hand painted. The carousel contains 56 animals. 53 are horses plus a lion, giraffe, and camel. There are also two chariots for riding.
Carousels are commonly populated with horses, but may include a variety of mounts. For example pigs, zebras, tigers or mythological creatures such as dragons or unicorns. It was the presence of the alligator that got me thinking about other unusual animals that would enliven a ride on a carousel. Chance Rides showed Pegasus, a winged horse, at a recent IAAPA Attraction Expo, and that makes sense. The SeaGlass Carousel in lower Manhattan features a nautilus shell with 30 grand luminescent fish. The Sea Carousel at SeaWorld Orlando offers rides on dozens of circling fish. On the Caro-Seuss-el at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, you’ll find an array of unusual creatures from the imagination of Dr. Seuss on this one-of-a-kind carousel. Let’s get creative. You only go around once in life. Unless, or course, you’re on a carousel.