Three minutes of round and round

Published 3:42 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So if you’re in Bainbridge, Ga., and you’re just itching to ride a merry-go-round, where do you go?

Other than the county fair, your closest bet is the Hollywood Connection Carousel in Columbus, Ga. A little farther up the road and much more spectacular is the Riverview Park carousel (originally housed in Chicago’s park by the same name) at Six Flags Over Georgia.

Still farther up the road in Rossville, Ga., at Lake Winnepesaukeh, you can take a spin on an outfit built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.

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If you’re going to go farther north in search of a round-and-round experience set to organ music and up and down animals, you might as well jump on up to this year’s Riverside Artsfest state of Rhode Island.

Crescent Park in New Providence, R.I., features a Charles Looff-crafted wonderland that is 55 feet in diameter with 62 hand-carved figures and four chariots.

These marvelous creatures contain no screws or nails. They were doweled together by the Danish furniture maker in 1895. Saved from the landfill in the 1970s by some Rhode Island carousel lovers, this masterpiece was placed on the National Register in 1976 and crowned in 1985 by the Rhode Island General Assembly as a “State Jewel of American Folk Art.”

The talented Looff built over 100 carousels, according to a related Web site. Another of his popular entertainers is located at Slater Park, R.I. Several other sites in Rhode Island feature carousels; one at a place named Garlick Farms.

Carousel buffs can find plenty of information about the history of these popular forms of entertainment that most of us associate with county fairs. Called “roundabouts” in England, the machines were originally powered by real horses, then steam engines, now electricity. Organ music has been replaced by CDs.

Frederic Savage is credited with installing the first overhead cranking device that made the animals go up and down.

Joseph Carollo, known as Rhode Island’s Carousel King, recalls the time when the insurance companies made him slow down his ride from 14 miles per hour to 11 and a half.

Since Artsfest is an educational venture and education requires the asking of questions, I’ll leave you with a couple.

Of what significance are brass rings as they relate to carousels?

And does anybody know where horse No. 70 is?

When Six Flags bought the Riverside Park carousel, they could only find 69 of the original herd of 70. Somebody, somewhere knows.