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Merry Go Round Day

"We're captive on the carousel of time, we can't return we can only look behind."

~ The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell, 1968

Can you hear the calliope music? In the United Kingdom, merry-go-rounds usually turn clockwise, while in North America and mainland Europe, carousels typically go anticlockwise as viewed from above. ​The expression "grabbing the brass ring" or getting a "shot at the brass ring" (striving for the highest prize, or living life to the fullest) comes from the heydey of carousels (1880-1921). Brass ring devices were developed to give the riders on the outside row of horses an extra challenge. Small rings accessible from a dispenser were presented to the rider during the course of a ride which required some dexterity to grab. Usually, there were a large number of iron rings and just one or two brass ones. The iron rings could be tossed at a target as an amusement, but getting the brass ring might get th lucky rider some sort of prize! There are still a few operating vintage carousels with brass ring devices, including the 1911 Santa Cruz Looff Carousel in Santa Cruz, California! 🎠

A central fixture of many amusement parks and fairs is the carousel,  roundabout,  or merry-go-round.  The "seats" are traditionally in the form of rows of wooden horses or other animals mounted on posts, many of which are moved up and down by gears to simulate galloping, to the accompaniment of looped circus music, often from a calliope.  


Other names for carousels are the galloper, jumper, horseabout and flying horses.

The earliest known depiction of the merry-go-round is from 500 A.D. which depicts baskets, carrying riders, suspended from a central pole in the Byzantine Empire.

The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella ("little battle", used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century). 

By the early 18th century carousels were being built and operated at various fairs and gatherings in central Europe and England.

By the mid-19th century the circular platform carousel was developed, and the first steam-powered mechanical roundabout, invented by Thomas Bradshaw, appeared at the Aylsham Fair in about 1861.

In the United Kingdom, merry-go-rounds usually turn clockwise, while in North America and mainland Europe, carousels typically go anticlockwise as viewed from above.

The historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Looff Carousel, on the coast of California, was built in 1911, and is one of the few carousels still in its original location.  It is a "pure carousel" meaning that all of the horses were provided by the same company that built the carousel. It is also one of the few with the rare combination of a working ring dispenser and outside row jumping horses. The carousel features three band organs including a rare Ruth & Sohn 96-key organ with 342 pipes. The Looff carousel was designated a national historic landmark in 1987.

This tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, evokes memories of the colourful atmosphere of a merry-go-round at night.

For more on this historic carousel, click the merry-go-round!