Your Hometown: Carousels: a ride through history
In a day of theme parks, complete with towering roller coasters and thrill rides that travel in excess of 100 miles per hour, a simple, antique amusement still reigns supreme in the Southern Tier. By going up and down, and around, riders are transported back to an age of innocence, and for no cost at all. In the latest edition of 'Your Hometown,' YNN's Chris Whalen tells us how Broome County became the 'Carousel Capital of the World.'
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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. --"It's a simple mechanism, yet there's something that's just so much fun. We had 90-year-olds wanting to climb up on the horses one more time, they just love it, there's something that just evokes childhood when you get up on those things," said Broome County historian, Gerry Smith.
While carousels evoke memories of childhood and a longing to go back to those days for many people, the main reason they even exist in the Greater Binghamton area is because of the disappointment felt by George F. Johnson when he was a youth.
When he and his family started donating money for carousels to be built in the Southern Tier, his only request was that future generations weren't met with the same feelings he was when he was young."
"Johnson had always said he was so poor as a child, he couldn't afford the nickel it cost to ride the carousel. So, when he gave the carousels, they came with the stipulation that they had to be forever free. 1919 to 1934, George F. Johnson himself or members of the Johnson family gave six carousels, there used to be ten thousand wooden carousels in the United States, today there's fewer than one hundred original ones, and we've got six of them, which is why we call ourselves the 'Carousel Capital of the World.' All six come from a company called the Hershell Spellman company in North Tonawanda out in the Buffalo area," Smith said.
"Of course the last chunk that people remember is the music. All of them came with a Wurlitzer band organ, the calliope-type music,' Smith added.
Rod Serling even used the carousel at Recreation Park in Binghamton as inspiration for the 'Twilight Zone' episode 'Walking Distance.'
"For many years, we didn't take great care of them. They were repainted by the DPW, or the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and sometimes you had polka dots and you had stripes and you had whatever kind of animal, then we began to realize we should take better care of them," Smith said.
"It's very expensive to restore them and once they are up and running, it changes the whole atmosphere of the carousel. Recreation Park carousel had all the horses restored, stripped down to their natural wood, repaired where need be, and repainted," said Assistant Director of Parks & Recreation for the City of Binghamton, Carol Quinlivan.
"What's really important is that we educate the young kids in the community now, so they know what a gift it is. Unless they're educated about it in school or in the park even, they're never going to know what it's all about," Quinlivan said.
"There's more affinity for them here, because it was Johnson that gave them to us for free, and we have at least now learned how to take care of them for future generations," Smith said.