Saddle up for this week’s Hittin’ The Town at the Merry-Go-Round Museum

The Sandusky museum is home to hundreds of beautiful carousel creatures.
The Sandusky museum is home to hundreds of beautiful carousel creatures.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:11 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Who doesn’t love a ride on the carousel? The beautiful machines have been thrilling the young and old for hundreds of years. And there’s a museum that features all kinds of carousel animals right here in northwest Ohio.

In fact, one of America’s leading collections of carousel animals is in Sandusky. The Merry-Go-Round Museum is full of creative carvings that have stood the test of time.

Bonnie Behm is the volunteer coordinator and gift shop manager.

“The golden era of carousels in the United States was 1885-1925. During that time over 3,000 carousels were built,” Bonnie said.

There’s incredible beauty everywhere you turn at the museum. Many of the pieces have multiple layers of carving, full of intricate details.

“Some of them have what we call secondary carvings on them. We have a horse with five extra carvings on it. Besides the detail of the horse, there is a cherub head on the saddle and sphinx in detail on it. The craftsmanship you can’t find anywhere today,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie says carving these pieces took anywhere from 400-600 hours. The most talented carvers worked on the head and neck of the animal.

“Most animals were cared by a team of people,” Bonnie said. “It was not done by just one person. You’d work your way up, so you’d start with the tail and move up to the leg and then become a body carver.”

And here’s some insider information: the animals on the outside are usually the largest and the most elaborate. The carvers were able to save time on the details on the inside.

“Since nobody pays attention to the backside of an animal anyway, all the detail gets put on the front and most people don’t realize the same design doesn’t go all the way around.”

Bonnie says carousels started as entertainment for adults.

“They were meant to get your blood pumping they were the original roller coaster, so to speak. They were designed to get you entertained and coming back for more.”

And these numbers might surprise you.

“Most carousels today go 2-3 mph. We are on the faster side with ours, it goes up to 9 mph. But there are some machines that were geared to go 36mph.”

The carousel at the museum originally traveled throughout Illinois and Indiana.

“Like most carousel operators, they discovered selling it piece by piece was more profitable than selling it as a whole. So when we got it they had already sold most of the animals. We have 21 animals on it that were carved from 1900-1930 and nine that were carved here at the museum on it.”

While most of us think of horses on carousels, there are so many other animals. Everything from farm animals and wild animals to mythical creatures.

“Deer, elk, sea monsters, sea horses, giraffes, elephants, wolves, roosters, rabbits just to name a few.”

Carousel animals aren’t just displayed at the museum, there are also people who work on them.

“We’ve got some that were recently restored, some that have never been restored, and some in need of restoration. Sometimes we have carvers in and you can see them work on a new piece or a restoration and ask questions.”

Bonnie says she discovers something new here almost every day. And she loves seeing the smiles on the faces of the young and the young at heart.

“There’s no such thing as an unhappy person at the museum.”

The museum is open for most of the year. It closes for the month of January for repairs and exhibit work. In February it’s only open on weekends.

To learn more, click here.

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