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MMD > Archives > February 2004 > 2004.02.28 > 05Prev  Next

Merry-Go-Round and Carousel
By Mark Chester

Eliyahu Shahar wrote, in part: "What I learned years ago at Disneyland
was that their carousel is a 'carousel' because all of the riders are
on horses that go up and down."

I have no doubt that that is what they told him, but if this is what
Disneyland is telling their customers, then they are misinforming them.
Few machines have only jumping horses, including the ones at Disneyland
and Disney World and, in fact these were altered to eliminate the
standers and chariots.  It is not authentic.

Most machines have at least two chariots, and approximately one-third
stationary animals.  In fact, Philadelphia Toboggan Company referred
to its machines as "carrousels" even though its earliest were all
stationary.  Charles Looff's first machine at Coney Island in 1876,
with all stationary animals, had a sign reading "Charles Looff's

The terms "merry-go-round" and "carousel" are perfectly synonymous;
there is, and has never been, any difference between their meanings,
as far back as we are able to trace their uses.  The best research on
this subject is probably Fred Fried's 1964 opus, "A Pictorial History
of the Carousel."  On pages 18 and 19 the origin of both terms is

Carousel (also spelled carrousel, carrouselle, and possibly a dozen
other combinations) is from a French word which is derived from an
Italian word.  Patty Slayton reported that "Painted Ponies" says
"carosello" was a 17th century Italian word that meant "little war."
I believe that the correct spelling for the Italian word would be
"garosello" because the Italian word for war is guerro, and the "-ello"
suffix puts it in the diminutive just as "fiorello" means "little
flower" (fior being Italian for flower.)  I believe that "carosello"
is the Spanish version of the same word.  And "merry-go-round" is
credited to a 1729 poem by George Alexander Stevens describing the
St. Bartholomew Fair.

I think that the biggest difference is a matter of snob appeal here in
the US.  "Merry-go-round" is distinctly English (although the English
refer to their machines as roundabouts) and thus sounds commonplace.
"Carousel" is French-sounding and thus more exotic.  Add a few letters
("carrouselle") and it appears even more so.  So a manufacturer (or
owner) that desired to add an aura of mystique to their machine(s)
would refer to it as a carousel and not a merry-go-round.  Most
manufacturers used the term carousel (however they spelt it) in their
written materials (and that included machines with stationary or
jumping animals or even a combination).

Philadelphia Toboggan Company distinguished their output with
a double "r" in the spelling, and that is where the word "carrousel"
received its widest use.  (A few other manufacturers also used the
double "r".) Hersheypark has PTC 47 which they refer to as the
"carrousel."  I believe that Dr. Bill Black derived the spelling of
the name of his company, "Carrousel Music", from the fact that it was
from the Hersheypark machine that he acquired his lifelong interest.

My own experience is with the Whalom Park machine.  When I worked
there in the late 1970s and early 1980s it was referred to as the
"merry-go-round" both officially on all park brochures and other
documents and unofficially among the workers.  The key tag read
"merry-go-round."  Once I became more aware of its historical
significance (not yet realizing its true significance until the fall
of 2001 when I was able to date it more accurately) I started referring
to it as the "carousel" because it sounded more historic and more
exotic.  Years after I left, the park started calling it the

As to rotation, it has correctly been pointed out that in the UK (and
perhaps only the UK) these machines turn in the opposite direction than
they do elsewhere, and that is because elsewhere, the use of the ring
machine was commonplace and most folks are right-handed and to put the
right hand toward the outside requires a counterclockwise rotation.

But in the UK, equestrian etiquette trumped practicality and so the
machines turn in the opposite direction so that a customer mounting
a horse from the outside would be doing so from the correct (left-hand)
side of the animal.

Does anyone know why the equestrian convention for mounting a horse
is on the left side?  It is because in the days of chivalry, a suited
knight would be carrying a sword.  A right-handed knight would have
the sword dangling on his left side -- it could not be drawn otherwise.
This would make a right-sided mount impossible because it would place
the sword between the rider and the horse, and spook the horse when the
scabbard would inevitably poke the hindquarter.  A left-sided mount
would leave the sword to the outside.

Mark S. Chester (Who has only ever ridden wooden horses)

(Message sent Sat 28 Feb 2004, 23:58:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Carousel, Merry-Go-Round

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