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Your Guide To Hand-Crafted Carousels In And Around Kansas City

Libby Hanssen
KCUR 89.3
One of the fanciful sea horses on the Venetian Carousel at Oak Park Mall.

This article originally appeared in KCUR's Arts Adventure newsletter. You can see the archive here. Or, you can subscribe here to receive it every Tuesday.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, for a tour of nostalgia, charm, craftwork and childlike joy. The merry-go-rounds of Missouri and carousels of Kansas are the cheapest rides on some of the finest examples of Americana folk art.

Most of the estimated 2,000-3,000 carousels built in the U.S. around the first half of the 20th century fell into disrepair or were disassembled for collectors. Only about 150 remain from the period, and five of them are here in our region.

Fortunately, a new generation of makers sprang up in the last 30 years, preserving the old styles and creating their own.

Enjoy this merry-go-round-up that takes you around the Kansas City metro and beyond!

1. Endangered Species Carousel
Kansas City Zoo, 6800 Zoo Dr., Swope Park

Credit Jean Bennett
The Endangered Species Carousel at the Kansas City Zoo.

While most original carousels featured horses exclusively, menagerie carousels quickly caught on. The Carousel Works, out of Ohio, continues that tradition by making unique, hand-carved animals for carousels with local flair.

Installed in 2007, the Kansas City Zoo’s carousel features examples of endangered species, with exotic animals representing the region’s universities: Mizzou Tiger, UMKC Kangaroo, K-State Wildcat and a KU logo on the shield of a traditional horse, while a lion wears a Kansas City Royals logo. Cost: $2 per ride.

2. The Grand CarrouselWorlds of Fun, 4545 Worlds of Fun Ave.

Credit Jean Bennett
The Grand Carousel at Worlds of Fun.

Carrousel, carousel, caroussel … they all derived from carosella/garosello, meaning “little war." These were tests of horse-riding skills from 12th century Turkey that were brought to Europe by the Crusaders, and eventually, to the U.S.

This 1926 M.C. Illions Supreme carousel was built for the Sesquicentennial Celebration in Philadelphia. It then moved to Alabama, then to Ohio, where it wallowed in storage before it was finally restored in 2010. Installed at Worlds of Fun in 2011, it’s a wonderful example of the jewel-adorned horses made by the Coney Island-based “Michelangelo of carousel carvers.”

During October, Worlds of Fun is only open Friday-Sunday, featuring the “fear-free” Great Pumpkin Fest by day and the Halloween Haunt by night. The park opens again November 23 for Winterfest.

3. C.W. Parker Carousel Museum320 S Esplanade St, Leavenworth, KS

Credit Bette Largent
One of the carousels at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth.

This all-volunteer endeavor reclaimed a piece of the American story in 2005 when the town of Leavenworth, Kansas, opened this charming museum across from Leavenworth Landing Park. It’s devoted to the legacy of the Charles W Parker Amusement Co., the history of carnivals and the craft of carousels.

The museum offers a spin on its wooden 1913 C.W. Parker Carry-Us-All No. 118, which, at 6 miles-per-hour, is a thrilling ride for all ages. This rare, original carousel includes two Kansas jackrabbits along with the traditional country fair-style horses; it took more than 1,000 volunteer hours to restore. Rides are accompanied by tunes on an organ that was donated by Melissa Etheridge.

The museum also has the restored aluminum Liberty Carousel, built in 1950, and a Primitive Carousel, circa 1850-1860, which is believed to be the oldest operational wood carousel in the world (though it is no longer ridable).

The museum is open Thursday-Sunday through December and closed for the month of January.

Cost: A museum tour costs $5, which includes one ride. After that, rides are $1.50 each. Bringing a bunch of kiddos? You can snag a 20-ride pass for $20.

And, if you get hungry on your adventure in Leavenworth, Homer’s Drive Inn has been serving up diner favorites since 1938. You'll find it right down the street from the former factory at 1320 South 4th Street.

4. Country CarouselCarolyn’s Country Cousins Pumpkin Patch, 17607 NE 52nd St., Liberty, Missouri

Credit Libby Hanssen / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Country Carousel in Liberty, Missouri.

Some Kansas Citians may recall that Worlds of Fun once had two carousels. “Le Carrousel” was the first carousel at the park, serving for 30 years with camels, chariots and fiberglass jumping horses in the Parker style.

In the summer of 2017, the Raasch family purchased and added the Bradley & Kaye carousel to its seasonal smorgasbord of autumnal attractions at Carolyn's Country Farm near Liberty, Missouri.

Cost: Weekend tickets are $13.95. Weekday tickets are $11.95. One carousel ride is included with every admission to the farm.

5. Venetian CarouselOak Park Mall, 11149 W 95th Street, Overland Park, Kansas

Credit Libby Hanssen / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Venetian Carousel at Oak Park Mall.

This is the only double-decker European carousel in the region, built by the Bertazzon family of Sernaglia, Italy. The fiberglass menagerie model features exotic and fanciful creatures like dragons, sea horses, pandas, dolphins, zebras and traditional horses, as well as teacups and chariots.

Parental Advisory: The carousel is smack-dab in front of the Disney store and extremely close to the LEGO store and American Girl store. Plan your approach carefully, or you’ll be spending a lot more than $3/ride.

6. Carousel in the ParkGage Park, 635 SW Gage Blvd, Topeka, Kansas

Credit Jean Bennett
The Carousel in the Park at Gage Park in Topeka.

This historic carousel was built in 1908 and restored in the 1980s. A remnant of Joyland, this classic Herschell-Spillman model made its way to Topeka in 1957 and was brought to its current home when the city bought it in 1986.

Topeka hosted a party for the carousel's hundredth birthday, and, with care, it will last another hundred years or more. The carousel joins the park’s many attractions: the Topeka Zoo, a mini-train, the Animaland concrete sculptures play area, a rose garden and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center.

The last ride of the season is October 27, and it's only open Saturday and Sunday in the fall. Cost: $2 per ride.

7. Parker Carousel412 S. Campbell St., Abilene, Kansas

Credit Jean Bennett
The Parker Carousel in Abilene, Kansas.

What U.S. presidents worked in the carousel business, you might wonder? We’re speculating here, but the original C.W. Parker company was active in Abilene, Kansas, between 1894 and 1911, when future president Dwight Eisenhower was growing up.

The Dickinson County Heritage Center houses one of the three remaining Abilene-built Parker carousels, circa 1901, and is one of the oldest operational, rideable carousels in the world. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and sits just down the way from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home.

Cost: $2 for kids ages 2-15, which includes one carousel ride. $6 for ages 16-61 and $5 for anyone 62+. Additional carousel rides are $2 each.

8. "Wild Things" Carousel1202 Penn Street, St. Joseph, Missouri

Credit Patee House Museum
The Wild Things Carousel at the Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Missouri.

This expressive hand-carved menagerie carousel is one of the attractions in the Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Missouri. Using a restored 1940s carousel frame, local woodcarver Bruce White created new animals in 2003, each with a unique name. The carousel is joined by a 1902 dragon-headed chariot, tucked just behind the Jesse James Home. White’s work is all over the world and now he lives in Garden City, Kansas.

Cost: $1.50 per ride, or $5 for 4 rides.

KCUR contributor Libby Hanssen writes the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich. Follow her on Twitter, @libbyhanssen.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She's written for KCUR, KC Studio, The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, and KCMetropolis. Libby maintains the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich and writes poetry and children's books. Along with degrees in trombone performance, she was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University.
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