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MMD > Archives > February 2000 > 2000.02.12 > 01Prev  Next

Looff Carusel at Whalom Park, Lunenburg MA
By Mark Chester

Help needed in saving carousel

Dear MMD friends:  I started the new year on a bad note.  I learned
that the carousel which I operated while in high school and college is
slated for the auction block in April.  It's at Whalom Park, Lunenburg,
Massachusetts.  The park, and especially the carousel, were prominently
featured in a segment of Rick Sebak's recent PBS documentary, "Great Old
American Amusement Parks."  See
The second picture on the page is a wide angle shot of the carousel:

Norton Auctioneers of Coldwater MI will conduct the auction on
Saturday, April 15, 2000.  For details see

This is bad news not only for myself, but for the Central Massachusetts
area and the carousel lovers' community at large.  I am very emotion-
ally involved and feel an urgent need to do something, though I no
longer live in the area.  Unfortunately, my friends in Massachusetts
who are closest to the situation are so emotionally drained that they
have nothing left to give in terms of an effort to save it.  So I am
taking it upon myself to try to organize a movement to save it from
300 miles away.

If you are into carousels and are able to help by being part of the
effort to organize a friends group which will eventually raise money
from the region, (and carousel community nationwide,) solicit
government officials' support, and negotiate with banks to guarantee
the funds necessary for a nonprofit corporation to bid it in at the
auction, then please contact me via email at or call
my voice mail toll free at 1-800-626-1665, extension 5288, or write me
at 124 Washington Avenue, Phoenixville, PA 19460-3765.  There is little
time and much to be done, as the ride is expected to fetch around

The carousel itself is quite interesting.  Not as elaborate as a PTC
or a grand model Dentzel, it has a charm all its own, and when I worked
there I thought it was the grandest one on earth.  It has a fifty foot
platform diameter.  It is a rare three-abreast machine consisting of
menagerie animals and horses, mostly the work of Looff and his carvers,
and dating from various periods of Looff's career.  Some pieces are
believed to physically date from the 1880s period, while some others
appear to be early 20th century work executed in earlier (1880s
vintage) Looff styles.

It appears that the ride "came together" (read on) around 1909 or 1910,
and was first installed at Gettysburg, PA, where it whirled for two or
three years, then a gentleman by the name of Adams brought it to Whalom
by 1912 or so.  It is unknown whether he owned it at Gettysburg, but
he is believed to have owned it as the first concessionaire to operate
it at Whalom.  It passed through other hands and finally was purchased
outright by the park in the 1950s, at a time when the park bought out
all of the remaining concessionaires except the food service.

Based on its probable date of "manufacture," it is likely that it was
produced in the shed adjoining the Crescent Park machine which served
as Looff's showcase.  It carries a variety of Looff styles of different

There are 56 animals, including 35 jumping horses and 1 jumping goat,
4 standing horses and 16 standing menagerie animals.  The standing
menagerie animals include 2 sea monsters, 4 greyhounds, three camels
(one larger than the others), five giraffes (two larger than the other
three), and two goats.  They are mostly in early Looff styles.  Two
of the standing horses are also in very early Looff style, circa 1880,
although these horses may be a little newer.  Another is an outer row
stander and is in a circa 1885 design with acorns and leaves behind the
cantle.  The other stander is apparently a replacement; an Illions.

Of the jumpers, nine of the twelve outside row jumpers are nearly
identical, with the eagle saddle and checkered blanket, a design from
circa 1885.  The other three outer row jumpers are of the same design
as the outer row stander referred to above, with the acorns and leaves
behind the cantle.

Eight of the inner row jumpers are a simple early Looff design, with
very plain trappings and a raised cantle.   Two of these in fact appear
to be even plainer and simpler than the other six, and I believe these
are the earliest horses on the machine.  Four other inner row jumpers
have large, awkward, cow-like bodies, but also appear to be the work of
the same carver(s) as the others described above.  One other is unique
on this ride, but other examples are known; a circa 1884 style
"dished-face" Looff with a pompadour forelock.

The other 10 jumpers are a mystery.  They are much smaller than the
others, much more simply carved, and while those attributes may be
typical for inside row horses on a three-abreast machine, these are
in a totally different carving style.  They in fact appear to be very
primitive Dare type horses, and I would not be at all surprised to
discover that they were made by that firm.  The designs carved into the
trappings are pretty and quaint, while the horses are simple, almost
crudely carved.  Two of them have bottoms which are absolutely flat as
a board!

All of the outside row animals, as well as a few of the inside row
animals, carry the typical Looff starburst mirror jewels, composition
rosettes and tassels; and one of the two very early animals has a
rosette and tassel in solid brass.

There are two chariots, typical Looff "Griffin and Phoenix" style,
similar to those on the Looff at Heritage Plantation, Sandwich, MA,
and on the Carmel machine at Knoebels' Grove, Elysburg, PA.

The ride is worthy of saving, as it remains a unique example of a
machine which possibly was put together with early style animals which
were removed from other rides that were updated or taken in trade, for
a customer on a budget.  Or the customer chose early styles still on
board the Crescent Park machine at the time.  At any rate, the variety
of styles and juxtaposition of elaborate early styles with plain,
simple ones, makes this machine worthy of a place of importance in
carousel history.  It is a showcase of the early evolution of carousel
art all mounted on one platform.  Break it up and the animals, though
still nice, no longer tell the same story.

For those of you looking for a mechanical music connection, I am sorry
to say that the carousel has had no band organ for forty or fifty
years.  At one time it had some style of organ sold by Berni, based on
a page in a circa 1915 brochure which calls it the "English Carousel"
and proclaims it as "One of the finest Merry-Go-Rounds in America'' and
"Equipped with a Berni Organ."  [An image of the page has been placed
at the MMD Pictures site, ]

As many of you know, that means that it could have been manufactured
by just about anybody.  In Q. David Bowers' "Encyclopedia of Automatic
Musical Instruments," at pages 815 - 817, it indicates that in the
1920s, Berni was a very active Wurlitzer distributor also, although
that would be later than my brochure.  So it was probably a European
organ bearing Berni's name.  In my years operating the ride I knew of
only one customer who remembered anything about the organ.  What I'd
give to see a photo of the inside of the pavilion at that time!

As to the photo in the archive, it shows mainly the original building;
the horses are barely visible in the dark between the openings.  This
building was replaced with a domed building when the carousel was moved
back about 50 feet circa 1946.

When I started operating it, I had already been a record collector of
1900-1930 vintage discs for five years, and was interested in player
pianos.  The park had some tapes of band organ music from Baptist Sound
& Manufacturing Co., which I got hooked on.  That is when I got bitten
by the band organ bug, and it would be another year before I would
actually see one (a Wurlitzer 153 at Canobie Lake Park).  So, during
my tenure at the carousel, I would play the music as loudly as I could
without distortion.  The kids who worked with me (I had one "assistant"
at all times) would actually want the music turned down, but this was
stuff I would crank up!  It never failed that when I returned from a
break, I had to turn the volume back up.

Now I am trying to put together plans for eventual construction of
a precise Wurlitzer 165 replica.  Quite an impact!

Occasionally I am fortunate (thanks to fellow MMDer Matthew Caulfield
and our mutual friends Irene and Max Hurley) to be able to fill in on
the carousel at Glen Echo Park, 2.5 hours from my house, enjoy their
great Wurlitzer 165, and recapture, for the day, some of what thrilled
me and helped shape me when I was 20 years younger.  I loathe the
thought that Whalom's carousel will be lost to posterity and shudder
to think what that loss will do to me.  So, while the patient is still
alive, I want to do what I can to save it.  There is no time to lose!

A photo of me taken at the carousel in happier times, in the Spring
of 1980 while I was operating it, has also been sent to the MMD
archive.  I am the one in the striped shirt, not the Super Chick
costume.  I haven't changed much, just more gray in my hair.

Thank you for reading.

Mark S. Chester

PS:  As fate would have it, I just got this message from Noreene
Sweeney of Carousel News and Trader:

> From: (Noreene Sweeney)
> To:
> Date: Saturday, February 12, 2000 1104 PM
> Subject: Whalom Park
> Got your name from a mutual friend in Massachusetts.  I'm also
> in PA, assoc. editor of The Carousel News & Trader.  I put some
> photos of Whalom Park's carousel up if you would like to see them.
> I think I remember one of the dogs being named for you?  Check out

(Message sent Sat 12 Feb 2000, 03:51:19 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Carusel, Looff, Lunenburg, MA, Park, Whalom

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