Painted Ponies Redux

Here I am riding one of the painted ponies that seem to be haunting me these days. This photo may have been taken at Lincoln Park, although the carousel looks much too small. Was there a smaller carousel in Kiddie-Land? Or was the photo taken at a different park? It doesn’t matter, because the parks are gone, or at least the ones I remember are gone. Lincoln Park, in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, had the longest  run, lasting from 1894 to 1987. In its heyday it was an oasis of delight, a place where families could spend all Sunday afternoon without running out of things to do, eat, watch, or ride. Lincoln Park was where I tasted my first pizza, although I didn’t much like it. I liked the rides, though. I started out on the  Kiddie-Land train and worked my way to the grown-up Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel, Bubble Bounce, Tilt-a-Whirl, Dark House, and Fun House. (I secretly thought the Dark House, with boats sloshing through a watery channel, was more fun than the Fun House.) The Penny Arcade had a “Grandma” fortune-telling machine, and right outside of Kiddie-Land it was possible to ride an unpainted, real pony that walked around in a circle inside a small corral. The real ponies didn’t go up and down, and there was no music. I liked the carousel horses better.

My Uncle Walter worked at Lincoln Park briefly. He operated the Tilt-a-Whirl and then moved up to the Dodgems. He let me ride for free, but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. The Tilt-a-Whirl was fun, but I didn’t understand the philosophy behind the Dodgems. I would drive my car very carefully, trying not to bump into anyone, but others would bump into me and start laughing. I thought they were very uncivilized and hoped my uncle would be promoted to a nicer ride, like the carousel. But that didn’t happen because Uncle Walter decided instead to go to California and seek his fortune.

When I grew older, I rollerskated in the skating rink and bowled in the bowling alley. I didn’t get good at either skating or bowling, although I liked the distinctive thunder and clatter of the duckpin alley. There was a ballroom, too, but I never went there. By that time I was too busy doing my French homework and sending out college applications. I should have noticed that the park was losing its magic, but I didn’t. 

Here’s what happened, although not right away and not all at the same time: Duckpin bowling disappeared, as did the equally if not more challenging sport of candlepin bowling. As tenpin lanes took over the bowling landscape, TV shows like Duckpins for Dollars and Candlepins for Cash were replaced by the unalliterative Bowling for Dollars.  And that was only part of it. Theme parks and water parks multiplied like rabbits, and I guess they had a lot more to offer in terms of fantasy and adventure and gigantic water slides, but you couldn’t get there on the Union Street Railway (which was not a railway) or by driving a short distance up the highway. Lincoln Park had this going for it: It was there. 

And how could I almost forget to mention the scholarships? At my high school graduation, after all the diplomas were given out, the local scholarships were announced. These were mostly from organizations like the College Club of New Bedford and the Portuguese-American Civic League, but the biggest local scholarships, one to a boy and one to a girl, were presented by Lincoln Park, and I was lucky enough to receive one. It was more than enough to cover my first year of college tuition, and my other local scholarships paid for most of my second and third years. I didn’t get to meet Cinderella or shake hands with a mouse, but I did get to go to college. Lincoln Park, the College Club of New Bedford, and the Portuguese-American Civic League were my fairy godparents. Some people walk on air, but that night I was walking on glass slippers.

As for the painted ponies, they had their own fairy godparents. Carousel #54, made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, had been at Lincoln Park since 1920, and it needed a new home. Thanks to the Fall River community it was purchased, refurbished, and moved to Battleship Cove, a “fleet museum” right by the Braga Bridge. I’ve never visited it in its new home, but I like knowing that for two dollars I can have one more ride.

More Circles: The Horses of Destiny

After France, we found we missed all those noisettes we had been drinking in Parisian cafes. The noisette, an espresso with a touch of cream, was our drink of choice for a whole glorious month, but when we returned home we realized there were no noisettes to be had unless we made them ourselves. That was why, a few days later, we headed for Destiny USA in search of a Nespresso machine. 

Destiny USA is a shopping center in Syracuse. It used to be called the Carousel Center because of the restored antique carousel in the food court on the second level. Built in 1909 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the carousel had several homes before being purchased for the Carousel Center, where it was placed in 1990. It survived the mall’s name change and remains a hard-working carousel with unusually fierce-looking horses, some outfitted with weapons and some with animal skins on their backs instead of saddles. 

Did we buy a Nespresso machine? Mais bien sûr! Then it was off to the food court to watch the horses go around and around. 

Going in Circles: The Carousels of France

We passed one on our first morning in Paris.  We were walking down the Rue de Rivoli, and there it was in the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, a lovely double-decker merry-go-round with old fashioned horses and carriages.  I was confused, because I was on the lookout for the Apple Store, one branch of which was in the Carrousel du Louvre near the inverted pyramid.  The carousel we saw was definitely not an underground shopping center, and it turned out that the shopping center had nothing to do with carousels.  (I hadn’t noticed the difference in the spelling; I was in another country, after all, where they spelled in a different language.)

But wait, there’s more.  Paris is full of carousels.  We saw one near the Eiffel Tower, one in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and one near the St. Paul Metro station.  And when we left Paris for a short trip through Normandy and Brittany, we saw carousels in Saint-Malo and in Honfleur.  Most of them were not limited to horses but included lions and tigers and elephants and chickens and cars and planes.  I loved all of them.

When I was a child, my mother would occasionally take me to Acushnet Park near Fort Rodman in New Bedford.  The park is long gone, and it never was serious competition for Lincoln Park, whose carousel had an impressive collection of horses and carriages.  Lincoln Park is, alas, also gone.  I was very young when Acushnet Park disappeared from my life, but I still remember the carousel, which was not limited to horses but included geese and rabbits and other animals.  I was particularly fond of the rabbits. 

On the carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the children riding the outside circle of horses are given sticks that they use to attempt to spear metal rings from some sort of ring dispenser.  I remember once riding a carousel in Oak Bluffs that featured a ring dispensing machine, but I don’t remember being given a stick.  We had to reach out and grab the rings with our fingers, and I think there was a knob on the horse’s neck to hold the collected rings.  I wasn’t fast enough to grab more than one each time around, but the Oak Bluffs kids would grab two or three at once.  Anyone who got the “gold” ring would win a prize.  It was fun, but I really wanted to ride a rabbit.